When Team Kawasaki's Michael Rutter claimed the only four-cylinder victory of the 2001 season in the second Superbike race at Rockingham Speedway, you could see the 16,000 spectators crowding the massive grandstands leafing through their programmes to find out exactly who the unfamiliar rider on the green bike actually was.

Nobody really expected it to be a Kawasaki that ended the Ducati domination of the 2001 British Superbike Championship - apart from Michael Rutter and the rest of Team Kawasaki that is! It's fair to say that Team Kawasaki have had what most people would term a difficult season in the British Superbike Championship this year.

As if beating the all-conquering v-twins wasn't hard enough, the team have also suffered major sponsorship problems and more than their fair share of bad luck.

The season started well enough, with a fourth for Steve Plater and a fifth for Michael Rutter in the opening race at Donington Park but, while Rutter scored another fifth in race two, Plater was highsided from the factory Kawasaki at the Esses and arrived at round two of the series at Silverstone nursing a pair of severely bruised ankles.

Bruised or not, the 30-year-old Lincolnshire rider secured his first ever front row start in the Superbike class at Silverstone, with team-mate Rutter heading up the second row of the grid. Unfortunately, things did not go quite as well for Plater come race day. A massive highside at Ireland Bend, while leading the first race, left the Team Kawasaki rider with fractures to his right foot and left wrist.

With Plater sidelined in the medical centre, team-mate Rutter went on to score a creditable sixth place finish from the restart, despite having to swap bikes on the start line when a stone locked up his rear brake caliper. The former Grand Prix privateer backed that up with another sixth place finish in race two.

Plater, sporting a lightweight cast on his injured wrist, was back on the factory Kawasaki for the third round of the series at Snetterton. After two steady practice sessions, a crash on cold tyres during the opening qualifying session aggravated his injuries and forced him to withdraw from the event.

After scoring his first front row start of the season during Superpole, things were looking up for Michael Rutter. However, a crash at Corams in race one and a forced retirement in race two meant that a despondent Rutter left Snetterton without scoring a single Championship point. As Team Manager, Simon Buckmaster commented after the event; "If it weren't for bad luck, we'd have no luck at all at the moment."

Round four of the series at Oulton Park saw Jamie Morley drafted into the Team Kawasaki squad as a temporary replacement for the injured Steve Plater. Morley, a British Superstock regular, certainly made an impression on his Superbike debut. After qualifying on the second row of the grid, the former British Junior BMX Champion scored a creditable seventh place in race one, before sliding off the Kawasaki at Shell Oils hairpin in race two. After also qualifying on the second row of the grid, Michael Rutter scored a sixth place finish in race one before going one better in race two and stealing fifth place from Sean Emmett at the line.

Team Kawasaki arrived at Brands Hatch for round five of the British Superbike Championship in confident mood. Steve Plater, now fully fit again, made his return to the series after a three round lay off and Michael Rutter, fresh from a win at the Mallory Park Post TT meeting, was keen to continue his winning form.

After qualifying ninth fastest, Plater worked his way through the field in race one, eventually getting the better of Rutter to claim the final podium position. After seeing his team-mate finish third in the first race, Michael Rutter gave Team Kawasaki their second podium of the day with a superb ride to second place in the twice restarted race two.

With a definite top speed advantage over the other bikes on the grid, Team Kawasaki arrived at Thruxton for round six of the series in confident mood. Plater and Rutter dominated the practice and qualifying sessions, with a Team Kawasaki rider topping the timesheets after every session. With only seconds to go in final qualifying, Steve Plater scorched to his first ever British Superbike pole position, with team-mate Rutter joining him on the front row of the grid in fourth place.

To say that the two races were close fought affairs would be the understatement of the year. Both races saw the leading seven riders literally glued together, with the podium only being decided at the final corner of the last lap. Race one saw Steve Plater cross the line in second place, after getting the better of a gaggle of riders at the chicane, and race two saw Michael Rutter on the podium in third, after out dragging Sean Emmett to the line.

Despite two podium finishes at Thruxton, Team Kawasaki were forced to withdraw from the next round of the series at Oulton Park, when sponsorship money promised prior to the start of the season failed to materialise. Undeterred, Michael Rutter opted to try and defend his fourth place in the championship standings by riding a privateer Kawasaki ZX-7RR for Hawk Racing. A misfire forced Rutter's retirement from the first race and, with the team unable to identify the cause of the problem, the 28-year-old West Midlander had no option but to use Mark Burr's bike - a bike he hadn't even sat on, never mind ridden, all weekend - for the second outing. A determined ride saw Rutter finish race two in sixth place and, as the points were totted up at the end of the meeting, his decision to ride as a privateer turned out to have been a good one. The former TT winner had dropped one place in the championship to fifth, but would have dropped to eighth if he hadn't ridden at all at Oulton Park.

By the time the British Superbike circus headed North of the border for round eight of the series, Team Kawasaki were back on track - albeit in a new streamlined format. Additional support from existing sponsors, Tau Ceramica and William Taylor Pools, had allowed the team to return to the series but, with Steve Plater having been released to ride in World Supersport, Michael Rutter was left as the sole factory Kawasaki rider on the grid.

Rutter marked his return as a factory rider by setting the third fastest time during qualifying, to secure only his third front row start of the season. However, things didn't go quite as well in the two races and, after a forced pit stop in race one dropped him back to thirteenth place, Rutter had to battle hard to finish fifth in the second outing of the day.

If the team were hoping for better luck at Cadwell Park, then they were to be seriously disappointed. A massive crash during the opening practice session completely destroyed Rutter's number one bike, leaving the battered and bruised Midlander desperately short of time to set up his spare machine. After suffering a misfire during Superpole, which necessitated yet another change of machinery, Rutter finally qualified on the third row of the grid. Despite the setbacks, and lowly grid position, Rutter bravely battled his way through the field in both races, eventually claiming sixth and fifth place finishes at the line.

A storming Superpole lap at Brands Hatch saw Rutter qualify on the front row of the grid for round ten of the series, after the team had implemented a programme of small, but critical, adjustments to the factory ZX-7RR. The wrong tyre choice negated the effects of these changes in race one but, after scoring a sixth place finish in the second outing of the day, Rutter managed to maintain his fifth place in the championship standings.

The next round of the series at Mallory Park was nothing short of a disaster for the team. After leading the first race, Rutter was forced to pull in after just ten laps when he started to suffer severe brake fade. Having changed brake pads for race two, the Team Kawasaki rider didn't even manage to complete a single lap before brake problems again forced his retirement.

With the cause of the problems experienced at Mallory Park quickly identified and rectified by the team, morale was high going into round twelve of the series at Rockingham Speedway. On the pace from the off in the dry practice sessions on Friday, Rutter also set the fastest time during the wet free practice session on Saturday morning. Changeable conditions wreaked havoc on afternoon qualifying and, after heading the timesheets for much of the session, Rutter was forced to settle for fifth place on the grid when an exhaust plug worked it's way loose and left him stranded on the far side of the circuit for the final five minutes of the session.

After showing his potential with an impressive second place and new lap record in the first outing of the day, Michael Rutter went one better in the second Superbike race. With 16,000 spectators cheering him on, Rutter got the better of the two Reve Red Bull Ducatis to score his, and Team Kawasaki's, first victory of the season. With the British Superbike Championship fast turning into the World's highest profile single make series, the first win of the season for a four-cylinder machine was warmly received by those fans who'd braved the elements to see the first running of a British Superbike race at the all-new Rockingham facility.

With Michael Rutter keen to end the season on a high, Team Kawasaki arrived at the final round in confident mood. After qualifying on the second row of the grid, Rutter was lucky to walk away from a massive crash at Redgate corner, when his brakes failed during the pre-race warm-up session. Jumping straight onto his spare machine, Rutter made it to the grid and took a creditable sixth place in the opening race.

Despite suffering the effects of his crash during the interval, Rutter was back on the grid for the start of race two. First away from the line, the Team Kawasaki rider spent nine laps battling for the lead with James Haydon and John Reynolds, before the onset of rain caused the race to be red-flagged - just as the Rutter rider forced his way to the front. On pole position for the restart, Rutter again got the holeshot and looked certain to secure his second win of the season. Unfortunately, with just two laps left to run, James Haydon ran into the rear of the Kawasaki at Macleans corner, forcing Rutter to run wide. Never one to give up, the West Midlander was soon back with the leading group, but couldn't quite claw back the deficit and ended the race in third place - securing sixth place in the championship standings in the process.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...