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This weekend is going to be even more exciting and interesting for one surprise reason - I'm going to be riding the Suzuki GSX-R750 Streetfighter again, but in the GP1 class. As fun an idea as it is, there was no choice in it. The ZX-10R isn't ready after the engine problem encountered at Pembrey three weeks ago. It took longer than I'd have liked to get it in front of a mechanic and the broken valve spring and guide that he eventually found is rather more serious than I'd hoped. The parts couldn't be sourced in time and, briefly, it looked like I'd be forced to miss my favourite round of the year. Happily, I have one of the best sponsors and friends that anyone could wish for in Rob Wright (aka RJW Consulting). Rob bought the ZX-10R for me and now runs the Streetfighter as his (bonkers) road bike. I hadn't even thought to ask before he offered to put it back into race trim for me to ride at Brands Hatch. Rather than being worried about seeing a bike he loves get raced, he can't wait to see it out there duffing up some GP1s. Rob - you are an absolute legend. We'd actually thought about doing this last year, once the Streetfighter championship was almost wrapped up. In the end we decided to safeguard the title bid first but the lap time comparison always made it an interesting idea because the GSX-R is so damned effective. For Brands, all we have to do is put it back to the gearing and settings I used there last year which were perfect and still in my notebook. I'll run it on Dunlop tyres too, rather than the Bridgestones I've been using this season. Making the transition will be a lot easier for me than getting the GSX-R set up around the significantly different needs of the Bridgestones. On top of that, the Dunlops offer more grip, especially driving on the side of the tyre which is pretty much the full lap at Brands Indy. For the same set-up reasons, I won't use the opportunity of riding under GP1 rules to fit slick tyres. The difference isn't as big as most people think and the radically different profiles can wreak havoc with your chassis balance. That's a good one to drop into a pub chat sometime... Of course, riding a bike with 136bhp and the aerodynamics of a Portacabin will make for hard work against the 190bhp+, slick-shod GP1 regulars. However, the Brands Indy circuit is entirely without a straight and precious little time is spent on full throttle with a big bike. The front straight is fast - 160mph for GP1 - but if I get on the gas early and use a sweeping line out of Clearways then anyone trying to drive past me will have to turn inside me which will make it very tricky for them to get on the throttle as hard - the only guys capable of pulling that off will be well up the road anyway. Then comes the most important corner of the track for any rider on any bike, and especially for me this weekend - Paddock Hill Bend. The approach and entry is very tricky and the GSX-R is mighty into it. You can't brake on the crest which forces big bikes to brake before it. The slower Streetfighter can hit the brakes some 10m after the crest which is why it can turn 49s laps. Nailing that corner, and then being pinpoint accurate around the rest of the lap, will be the key to this weekend. Last year, on fresh tyres, I was consistently lapping in high 49s, with a best of 49.6s. That was without anyone to chase, no pressure behind me and a pitboard saying '+10'. Amongst faster bikes it could be possible to pull a couple of tenths off that. The GP1 class is faster this year so the only prediction I'm going to make is that this week is seriously going to be worth watching.
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