The most anticipated week in the calendar for the MRE faithfuls is finally here. All the months of hard work – practice, performance tuning, team additions and so much more to ensure that teams have the most competitive riders for the race finale come November 24 2018.
All the teams have had at least one private session after the last qualifier in August. Lap times are a closely guarded secret now. Teams playing their cards close to their chest.
To appreciate the culmination on the 24th of November, we have to relive the three qualifiers during the course of the year and all the things that happened before, during and after said qualifiers.
In the supersports category, OddInstinct lost its two riders, Ahmed – defending champion and BadBlood – Rookie of the year, to 24-7 racing and Badblood Racing respectively. All this before the first qualifier of the year. We will definitely miss OddInstinct as they provided us with the guys that finished P1 and P2 at last year’s event.
CC Racing welcomed one the fastest female riders, Lolu, to their fold. She was one of four females to join Dot of Dot-09 in the supersport category. The others are Aqua of 4eva Racing, Queen and Flygirl of 24-7 Racing. It is worth noting that Aqua rode from Ghana to participate in the first qualifiers of the year.
The Superbike category saw a few additions as well with the most notable being the re-branding to BKG racing. Gbenga joined the team to partner B9. Behind the scenes, they have Graphix managing the engineering side of the team. Show of 4eva Racing and Mustee of Torque Racing lined up on the grid for Q1.
Due to the increase in the number of participants, the format was revised somewhat. Three qualifiers were earmarked to take place during the year with only the ten fastest riders qualifying for the season ending show piece. This was to ensure that the races were are safe as possible.
February 24: Onto Q1 in the Supersport category AKA Battle of the Rookies, four of the seven riders lined up on the grid were new to the track. As expected, the riders with more experience on the track quickly put down their markers. The time between P3 and P7 was just under 54 seconds. This basically translated to 27 seconds difference on each lap. It was not much of a surprise that Ahmed was again the fastest out on track. His time of 2:36:72 over two laps was enough to secure pole for the race finale. He did not attempt to best his time in any other qualifying session over the course of the year. Again, the top three riders from 2017 finished in the exact positons after Q1. 12 seconds separated Ahmed and Blow which was considerably lower between the same riders last year. The battle of the rookies was won by Lolu who finished in P4 ahead of Aqua, Queen and Flygirl. Dot was the noticeable absentee from Q1.
The 1000cc category had three champions set to battle it out on track, Jack, Argo and Sama. To qualify as close to the front would have been the minimum requirement for these riders. Q1 was considerably more competitive than the 600cc qualifier with just under 31 seconds covering the eight riders. Gbenga rode a sensational qualifying to clinch provisional pole with a time of 2:33:06 which was almost 6 seconds faster than Argo, the first runner up in 2017 and 11 and a half seconds over Jack who held on for P4. The established trio surely had been reminded that things were not going to go entirely their own way. JayDee of 24-7 Racing finished in P3, B9 of BKG racing in P5, Tbanj in P6, Show in P7 and finally Mustee in P8. Sama was the only champion to sit out Q1.
Teams went away after Q1 with data that would help inform their decisions on making sure they come out ahead of the competition during the remaining qualifiers and ultimately, the race finale.
April 9: Throttle Heads Racing officially announced the signing of Ime Peters to race in the 1000cc class with Team Principal Jack Afara. Also signed this year to THR is Badblood formely of BadBlood Racing in the 600cc class.
April 28: BKG racing had a private session for tests and data gathering on both riders. Lap times were not shared. A recurring motif in the paddock it seems.
May 26: The riders were out on track for the second qualifying session of the year. In the 600cc class only three riders; Blow, Dot and Tony, were present which was curious to say the least. Badblood was absent due to a bike related incident which ruled him out for the rest of the season. Dot had changed bikes and was now aboard the Yamaha YZF R6. The question was had she had enough time on the bike to post a competitive time.
With Badblood absent, Blow set out to improve on his time which was over 12 seconds from Ahmed and 6 seconds from Badblood. At the end of the session, he shaved off 7 seconds of his Q1 time and took provisional P2 at the end of the session. Tony and Dot were not having it their way as they finished in P7 and P8 respectively. Only Flygirl finished lower and this was with the lap time she set on her first ever competitive run on the track in Q1.
For the first time this year, we had all three champions on track since the finale last year. Add the provisional pole setter, Gbenga, to the already exciting lineup and we were in for some spectacular session. From the get go, all riders shaved off considerable amount of time of their Q1 lap times. Sama running in his first qualifiers went about his business pretty quickly, besting the time set by Gbenga in Q1 by 5 seconds in the process setting a new lap record. Gbenga who was not on track to see his lap time obliterated responded to the challenge by setting a new lap record to take back P1. Sama a second behind settled for P2. Jack was another second further back to qualify in P3. Argo finished in P4, 5 seconds behind his mate, Jack.
Things setting up for the last qualifier of the year but before then,
June 9: THR officially announce the signing of the 2016 BT champion, Sama, to join Jack and Ime on the grid.
June 25: 24-7 Racing have a second private session. Again, lap times were not officially declared.
August 4: Dot has a private session on the track.
August 22: Just days to Q3, 24-7 drop the biggest bombshell so far. Argo had joined the team.
August 25: The announcement of Argo as the newest member of the 24-7 team had surely spiced up the last qualifier. There was also the little part of seeing David Brown of CC Racing on track for the first time ever. This coupled with the usual suspects made for a very intriguing final qualifying session in the liter class. Unfortunately, only three riders put in lap times which left left the session a tad underwhelming. David showed good pace through out practice. He looked like the only rider to threaten the top four riders but he just barely missed out by qualifying in P5. He was later given a three second penalty for not coming into the pits and dropped a place to P6. B9 did not have the best of qualifiers either finishing in P7. Armstrong of Inferno racing was also partaking in his first qualifier this year aboard his GSXR-750. He came in a very decent P8. With the new regulations, he will need to get a liter bike for the race finale which should level the field…. at least theoretically anyway.
Q3 for the 600cc was a lot more eventful even with Ahmed and Blow sitting out the session. Six riders working to out qualify the next rider. Five of the six riders were also trying out for the first time this year. This took the total number to thirteen riders with only the top ten riders lining up come November.
The battle was to see who finishes as the best of the rest. The favorites were Ime and Lolu. All weekend Ime of THR struggled with the setup of the GSXR 600 and was never really comfortable on his alternate bike, R6. Lolu won the battle with about 6 seconds separating them. We suspect that the real battle will be on Saturday, November 24. With Badbloob absent, finishing P3 should be enough motivation to bring out the best from both of them.
Qualifying finally over. Race finale is upon us. But before then, a round up of events that occurred after Q3.
September 30: CC Racing hold their first private session.
October 6: BKG have their second private session. Even with the inclement weather, they are quietly happy with the progress made over the couple of testing days.
October 12: Yet another 24-7 racing private session. At this rate, they should just move to the track.
October 30th: While this was not technically a private session we are chucking it up as one for the 24-7 team.
The race week is finally upon us. Most of the teams are as prepared as they can possibly be. The track will be open on Wednesday, 21st of November for free practice till dusk on Friday.
In the Supersport category, we cannot look beyond anyone other than Ahmed winning this. The question is whether he will move up to the Superbike category in 2019. His pace on the ZX10R in August was mighty impressive. He would have out qualified a number of riders if he did post a time. Blow in P2 does not look threatened either. The battles are expected to take place for behind the two aforementioned riders. The interesting battles will surely be between Lolu and Ime for the last podium place with Dot and possible Flygirl fighting for P5.
The Superbike is a bit tougher to call. The top four guys have a bit more than the rest of the field but in racing, all you need is a mistake and everything changes. We know for sure that if Olu gets a clear track, he will be very difficult to catch. We have not seen him play catch up on this track and that might play into the hands of the more experienced riders. This will probably be the most Jack has had to fight to defend his title and we know how hard he fought against Argo last year.
Will Sama go head to head with his Team principal? Will team strategy play a part this year? So many questions. Surely they will all be answered On Saturday.
From a team perspective, it is looking like 24-7 and THR will be locked in a battle across both categories. they both have two champions each in their teams. Madness!!!!
See you trackside!!!!