A busy month of Supermoto, gym training and a wildcard ride with Wilson Racing at Brands Hatch onboard their Standard Moto3 bike was capped off with a trip to Spain to compete in the 1st round of the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup.
Max arrived at Jerez full of excitement at the prospect of racing at a MotoGP weekend and he was confident he could take the next ‘step up’ required to compete at the Rookies Cup level. Max had already tested with the Rookies Cup at the Circuit of Jerez at the end of April, where he made good progress and he was focused to improve further. Max is one of 24 riders from around the world and he is easily one of the least experienced, because he’s never competed on a KTM Moto3 (which are inherently more challenging to ride than the Honda he’s used to) and many of the circuits are brand new to him. Therefore, he came into the weekend with some realistic targets of finishing the races, getting inside the top 20 and hopefully in one of the races finish in the points.
As the rookies cup is a part of the MotoGP weekend Max was looking forward to 2x Free Practice Sessions and 1x 25min Qualifying Session on Friday. 1x 16 lap Race on Saturday and a 2nd 16 lap Race on Sunday.
Free Practice Sessions:
With not a cloud in the sky, no breeze and hot conditions, Max approached the sessions in his usual methodical way and built his confidence and speed throughout the sessions, putting in his best times towards the end.
Max finished the 1st Free Practice Session in P5, matching his personal best time around Jerez of 1:50.9s.
After providing feedback to his technicians and mechanics the bike set up was improved and in his 2nd session, Max matched his best time, but this time did it on his own without a slipstream or being in a group of riders.
Sadly the good weather wasn’t going to last long. Thunderstorms and heavy rain were scheduled during this session.
As Max waited in pit lane for the green light, the dark clouds were amassing above the circuit and spits of rain were falling. Taking advice from the coaches beforehand, Max did as he was told and started the session ‘steady away’ to assess grip levels and reduce any risk of crashing, throwing away any hopes of a good grid spot.
Early in the session Max maintained a P21 position, but as he improved, so did the rest of the field. When Max achieved his previous best lap time of 1:50.9, which had placed him so highly in practice, this was only good enough for P20! Therefore he had to dig deeper as the conditions became worse. Max didn’t disappoint as shortly afterwards he set his personal best lap time of 1:50.5, taking 0.4 seconds of his previous PB! Surely this would propel him up the grid? Sadly not as much as he hoped, it was good enough for P17. The pace of the field was incredible and every rider was fast. Positions 6 to 20 were separated by a mere 0.6s!
Unfortunately the rain came down hard towards the end of the session just as Max was starting a faster lap, which he had to abandon as parts of the circuit became wet. So Max had to settle for P17 which meant he had work to do, but he came away satisfied he’d improved, learnt loads and had good pace for races the following days.
Shortly after the MotoGP qualifying sessions had finished Max lined up on the grid P17, in bright sunshine and in front of a few 1000 educated fans who knew they were watching the stars of the future.
Starting in the middle of row 6 Max approached this race focused and determined to do the best he could.
Max had a great start and immediately made up 7 places to slot comfortably in to P10. As the race unfolded the field separated into 3 groups and Max found himself in the thick of the action in the 2nd group, which turned out to be a race long battle for 9th place. Max fought hard throughout as the places changed constantly. He led the group for long periods, but toward the end of the race the field began to slow and jostle for position as no-one wanted to lead the group on the last lap and lose the slipstream advantage. Sadly Max hadn’t experienced this before and it took him a while to figure out why they were riding strangely. Max tried to take advantage of the situation and make a break for the chequered flag with 3/4 of a lap to go. He went for an overtake but unfortunately got tagged by another rider, which sent him wide and put him at the back of the group in 16th. He managed to recover well and take 3 places back in 1/2 lap before crossing the line in P13. A points finish and a new PB of 1:50.3 was an awesome result and Max couldn’t have been happier afterwards.
This race couldn’t have come soon enough as Max was keen to race again after yesterdays positive result. Race 2 was at the end of the day and as Max lined up in Pit-lane, he could see Marc Marquez on the podium taking his winning trophy and the crowds roaring their appreciation.
As Max made his way to the grid (P17) some of the crowds had stayed, which made the occasion even more special.
When the lights went out Max had a brilliant start and made his way to 11th position within a few laps. After lap 6 he had made his way to 10th position and looked good to continue his progression as he had managed to stay in touch with the leading group. Max had a good feeling with the bike and was confident he could continue to push and make his way through the field. On lap 6 he had great drive coming onto the back straight and lined up an overtake which would have taken him to P8. As he was breaking hard into the corner he felt something go on his front suspension which upset the front of the bike and made him lose the front tyre. Max managed to save the bike on his knee, but after that incident the feeling of the bike changed. Max was convinced he had broken something on the bike as the front suspension wasn’t the same. As Max assessed the situation he dropped back to P23 and he decided to keep racing and try and ride around the problem. Whilst he was lapping 0.6-0.7s slower than he normally would, he still managed to get up to P20 and had some good battles. Sadly he couldn’t push to go as fast as possible because every time he did, the front end would upset the bikes handling. Max eventually finished P20 and whilst he was disappointed, he was upbeat and happy he stayed out and finished the race, but nothing could dampen his mood about his 1st round at Rookies Cup and scoring his 1st championship points.
“This weekend has probably been one of the best racing weekends I’ve ever had. To be part of the Rookies Cup, at Jerez on a MotoGP weekend is a dream come true. I’m really pleased to finish both races, get in the points and I feel Ive made a big step forward understanding the bike. I also feel as though Ive settled in well as the all the riders here are good fun and I’m getting on well with them, plus the support Ive had from the coaches, suspension technician and my mechanics has been amazing! After this weekend and experiencing the Rookies Cup properly I feel even more motivated to keep improving and I really cant wait for Mugello in a few weeks time. I’d like to say thanks to everyone at Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup for an amazing opportunity and also all my sponsors and supporters as I couldn’t do this without your help”