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This Champagne tastes sweeter than usual.

After a difficult 2015 with just one podium at the start of the season, it’s a great feeling to be back on the podium at Assen. This one really means a lot because of the circumstances we find ourselves in this year. 2016 is the debut year for the GRT Racing Team in the World Championship. The team competed in the Spanish Moto2 Championship for the past few seasons with just one World Supersport wildcard in Jerez last year. The team was re-structured for their move up to the World Championship this year, so in essence, it’s almost a brand new team, along with brand new bikes.

The opening race of the season at Phillip Island was not easy by any means, even though I was one of the fastest during the race. The race week started off very bad for us, with the 2 day test which takes place every year on the Monday and Tuesday before the Phillip Island race weekend.

The first session on the Monday went well and I was fast all session with the harder option rear tyre. The problems started when we put in the new softer compound. I had loads of grip then all of the sudden I’d have none and before I knew it, I was tumbling through the gravel trap wondering what the hell happened. After the first crash, I thought I had just pushed too hard after building my confidence up and up. So, we went back out on the same rear tyre (as I only managed 2 laps on it) in the afternoon session. After another 2 laps of feeling great and going faster, BOOOOM… it flicked me off again. Two big highsides in a matter of 4/5 laps.

I haven’t highsided many times on a Supersport bike and whenever I have, I knew what I had done wrong. This time I hadn’t done any different to the laps before. After the second crash, we started to think the tyre could have been faulty.

The next day, we started with the same compound tyre (a new one) and again it felt great for 2 or 3 laps, building up and going faster then BOOOM… that gravel trap again and another headache, at the same corner as my first crash the day before. To add to the drama, my team mate Aiden Wagner had the same issues, also highsiding 3 times, 1 of which was the same corner as mine!

Because of the crashes we didn’t get enough track time as we’d liked, so we didn’t really get to the bottom of the exact reason for the crashes, leaving us a little worried going into race weekend…

We started on a different compound tyre and also changed the bike set up completely and we didn’t have the same issues again but we did have some other little problems. I ended up qualifying 18th, the worst of my World Supersport career, so we weren’t too pleased.

My crew chief and team worked hard to analyse the data and they improved the bike drastically for Sunday morning warm up and I was nearly half a second faster than my qualifying time and feeling good. I had such a fun race, battling through the pack until I got up to 4th and in the battle for the podium. It started to rain a few laps from the end and I was a bit too cautious. After all that hard work getting there I didn’t want to chuck it down the road and I got nudged back to 7th at the finish, after almost getting back through to 6th at the final corner. I best race lap was only a tenth off the best lap and we scored good points in our first race together so we were all very happy. More importantly, I had great race pace so we hoped it was a sign of good things to come for the remainder of the season.

In Thailand we qualified better but still had a lot of work to do with the bike, mainly with electronics. I started from the third row but unfortunately had a technical issue on the first lap and had to ride with it until the end, finishing 9th but right behind MV Agusta Factory rider Lorenzo Zanetti and Kawasaki rider Zulfahmi Khairuddin.

In Aragon I qualified on the third row again but we should have been higher. The team did a great job of bringing some new parts to the first European race, so we had to test them throughout the race weekend. Getting upgrades is always a good thing but unfortunately the new 2016 practice and qualifying format doesn’t bring any benefit in this situation. Last year, we would have had 3x 45min practice sessions (that do not mean anything when it comes to grid position) and 1x 45min qualifying session (for grid position). This means you have 3 sessions to try different settings and test things; plus you can break up the qualifying session to test things further and just put in your qualifying laps at the end of the session. This year, with the new format, we have 2x 1hour sessions on Friday but unlike the last years practice sessions, these are now ‘timed practices’ where only the top 10 riders will get through to Superpole 2 on Saturday (a 15min shootout for the top 12 positions on the grid). Therefore, both of the practice sessions on Friday become very crucial, in the sense that you have to treat them like qualifying. This means that if you are testing something different on the bike and it either takes a long time to get working correctly or it’s a change you can’t revert from during a 1hour session, you can easily find yourself outside the top 10, especially with the level of World Supersport this year. With the new electronics rules, lap times are now closer than they have been in previous years and it’s stacked full with talent and up to 36 riders.

So, as I was saying… I qualified 9th but after making improvements to the electronics I was 4th in Sunday morning warm up and confident of going faster consistently. Unfortunately I had to retire from the race on the first lap with a technical issue, which was frustrating because I was confident of challenging for the podium.

We were out to redeem ourselves and make up for lost ground at Assen but I don’t think anyone really expected to leave there with 2nd position and 20 points. Knowing you are capable of being on the podium and actually achieving it are two very different things. The weekend started off wet and I was feeling good after P6 in first practice and a more relaxed P7 in second practice, doing just enough to get us into Superpole 2. During another wet session Saturday morning I was inside the top 2/3 for most of the session, finishing 5th as a ‘damp’ line started to appear.

We worked hard in all of the wet sessions because you never know what the weather will do at Assen and after the wet FP3, we thought Superpole was going to be wet as well. But the sun and wind came and the track dried completely. The riders in Superpole 1 were first to try the dry track and the top 2 joined us in SP2. Unfortunately, we were the only team that had no data or set up from last year so we had to guess a little. We did the best we could but the bike wasn’t there in the dry and I qualified on the third row in 8th, which was actually our best qualifying so far this year.

Sunday morning warm up was dry and we improved the bike but not quite enough. We made another modification for the race and I had a good start, running in 6th battling with Kyle Smith. I still didn’t have the pace to go with the top 5 as I was struggling in some areas. We were still just a small step behind… until the skies turned dark and the heavens opened! The red flag came out and we all regrouped for a wet restart.

My initial start off the line wasn’t great but I was sure to make some moves during the first lap to get closer to the front. I slotted in behind the Kawasaki’s of Krummenacher and Sofuoglu and felt comfortable there. They were battling hard whilst I was just trying to stay out of trouble. I was actually laughing at some of the passes, especially between team mates! I was tempted to get to the front because I felt I had the pace to pull away but the grip was so unpredictable that I didn’t want to risk it. A few laps before the end, Jacobsen and Smith came past and it looked like PJ decided to do what I was tempted of… but the risk didn’t pay off and he went down. I passed Sofuoglu moving into second but after a couple of slides I wasn’t close enough to Kyle to attempt a pass at the last chicane… so P2 it was!

When I returned to Parc Ferme, the team went crazy! To say they were happy is an understatement! It was great to see and feel. They are a great bunch of guys and it’s very rewarding to bring them some champagne in what is only their fourth race as World Championship contenders. A podium and fourth position in the Team Championship Standings is something to be proud of.

Hope you enjoyed reading my blog, I’ll check back in soon!

If in doubt, elbows out! Gino #4

Big thank you to: Moran Construction UK LTD Jap4Performance Damen Leathers HJC Helmets One Step At A Time Charity Gaerne Boots Lilac Park Homes Garnell Nutrition

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