The Pr1mo Bournemouth Kawasaki team were back in action over the Bank Holiday weekend at Oulton Park, Cheshire for round 3 of the British Superbike Championship and it proved to be an excellent meeting with Chris Walker giving the squad their first ever BSB win. The Nottinghamshire rider was in superb form and put in a scintillating ride in difficult, damp conditions to claim his first victory in the series since 2000 and hand Pete Extance's squad a dream win.
Walker was strong throughout practice and qualifying and with rain having fallen prior to the race, he was able to utilise all of his, and crew chief Ray Stringer's, experience. A bullet start saw him move up from 10th on the grid to 4th at the end of the first lap and although the track was drying, the set up of the ZX-10R Kawasaki meant that Walker was able to race without his full wet tyres overheating as much as his rivals. Third on lap 5 after overtaking reigning Champion Tommy Hill, Chris enjoyed a good tussle with Josh Brookes for 2nd and after finally passing him for good on lap 10 he set about reducing the gap to leader Shane Byrne. With just 3 laps to go he was right on his back wheel and grabbed the lead at Island Bend on lap 15 eventually taking a fairytale win by 1.79s.
Chris also shone in the other two races held over the weekend coming through the pack to take an excellent 7th place in Sunday's race (rescheduled from Brands Hatch), Michael Laverty pipping him for sixth on the final lap. He then backed that up with a solid ninth place in Monday's second race to move onto 46 points and move up to 7th overall in the Championship table.
Team-mate James Hillier enjoyed his best qualifying of the year so far in 19th place overall but was thwarted by mechanical problems in two of the races. First up was Sunday's rescheduled race and he was again looking good for some points as he ran in 15th place in the early stages only for an oil leak to intervene. A rear brake problem caused him to retire from Monday's first race but he bounced back well to take a strong 18th in the second race.
It was a good day for third team member Kyle Wilks with the 17-year old taking a strong 16th place in the Metzeler National Superstock 600cc Championship race. The Southampton rider was unlucky not to score a debut point, finishing just 0.150s adrift of 15th placed Tom Young.
Images: Tim Keeton
Chris Walker: "At the beginning of the season, I felt we'd perform strongly so to get a win so early in the year is simply brilliant. We had a really good wet setting which meant I could ride hard without overheating the tyres so fair play to all the boys in the team and it's thanks to them that I could take the top step. I've genuinely surprised myself with my pace this year but the rules are playing into my hands and with two more good top ten finishes, I couldn't have asked for anymore from the weekend. It was a long winter for me and a lot of people - friends, family etc - have dug deep to get me back out onto the grid so this win's for them. The team are brilliant and I'm enjoying my racing as much as ever so it's been a dream weekend."
Images: Tim Keeton
James Hillier: "Two DNF's is obviously disappointing but we can put it down to sheer bad luck and I've enjoyed myself a lot this weekend. One of my aims at the beginning of the year was to make it into the top 20 regularly and I feel I'm now doing that so once the luck turns, I'm sure the points will follow. The potential's definitely there so when I come back to the BSB races, that's what I'll be aiming for. Now, I'll just focus on the month ahead and the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT, which I'm really excited about."
Images: Tim Keeton
Pete Extance: "What can I say, it's just been a brilliant weekend and I'm so thrilled for everyone connected with the team, especially Chris obviously. It's been a while since he's had a win but we all knew he had it in him this year, particularly in tricky conditions, and he was in great form all weekend. To get out first ever BSB win is an absolute dream and with two more good top ten finishes, Chris is now up to 7th and we aim to keep him up there for the rest of the year. We've said all along our aim was to get him into the Showdown and there's nothing at all to alter that view so let's hope we can."
"I was also pleased with how James rode all weekend and it was only a few niggling little mechanical problems that prevented him from getting the results he deserved. He made it into the second phase of qualifying for the first time and it was very satisfying to see him finish in 18th in the last race of the weekend. Coming through from the back of the grid was a great effort indeed. Overall, we're delighted so a big thanks to all the guys at Pr1mo and all our team sponsors as this is a day we've all dreamed of."
There's now a three week break before the next BSB round at Snetterton but, prior to that, Hillier will be in action at the International North West 200, the first International road race of the year. Held in Northern Ireland, the meeting is run on the public roads linking the towns of Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush and takes place from May 15-19.
Phil Wain - Freelance PR