"Obviously, my first thoughts are with all the riders who tipped off today and I wish them all a quick recovery so it’s a bit odd to have a race result declared after just one lap."
Lee Johnston and the Ashcourt Racing team took fifth place in Saturday’s Macau Grand Prix, the final meeting of the 2019 season, after two separate crashes meant the race was stopped twice and the result declared with just one lap having been completed in the second race start.
Competing at the Far East venue after a one-year absence, and riding a 2019-spec BMW S1000RR for the first time, Lee gradually increased his pace during free practice and qualifying, setting a lap of 2m30.196s during Thursday’s first qualifying session which placed him seventh on the leaderboard.
Track conditions had improved considerably for Q2 on Friday morning though and that, along with a number of changes to the electronics and chassis set-up, enabled Lee to lap more than three seconds quicker with his best lap being 2m27.101s. That was a second faster than he’d ever lapped the 3.8-mile Guia circuit before and it moved him up to fifth overall for a second row start.
Saturday’s race, scheduled for 12 laps, again saw good conditions and Lee made a great start to complete the opening lap in fourth place behind pole position man and early leader Peter Hickman, Michael Rutter and David Johnson.
Hickman soon pulled away but there was little to choose between Lee, Rutter and Johnson whilst Davey Todd was close behind in fifth too. Going into the fourth lap, less than a second covered second to fourth and Lee had put himself in with a great chance of a podium but on lap four, the red flag came out and the race was stopped after a crash involving Rob Hodson and Marek Cerveny.
Fortunately, both riders were ok but with fuel and water and debris on the track, a delay of thirty minutes took place before the race got underway once again, this time over the shorter distance of eight laps.
On this occasion, Lee completed the first lap in fifth place but the race was only a lap and a half old when the red flags were out again, this time for a multiple pile up which included six riders. With the light fading and with no time on Sunday to run the race for the third time, the result was declared, somewhat strangely, at the conclusion of the first lap which meant Lee was awarded fifth place.
Team-mate for the meeting Gary Johnson qualified in eighth place and he took the same position in the race although the shortened distance meant that he too wasn’t able to show his true pace.
Out of the six riders involved in the second crash, Derek Sheils, Erno Kostamo and Dan Kruger were all taken to hospital but all three were conscious with ‘non life-threatening injuries’. Michael Sweeney, Phil Crowe and Didier Grams were all ok.
Lee Johnston: “Obviously, my first thoughts are with all the riders who tipped off today and I wish them all a quick recovery so it’s a bit odd to have a race result declared after just one lap. Given the circumstances, the result in a one-lap race is a bit immaterial as we had barely got going but I’m really disappointed to have ended the week in fifth as I don’t think it truly reflects our pace or where we were at. The changes we made to both the chassis and the electronics after the first day paid dividends as I had a good feeling during second qualifying to move up to fifth so I was looking forward to the race.”
“In the first start , I got off the line well to get away with the front group and I felt really comfortable sitting behind Michael and David but then the red flag came out and in the re-start I didn’t get away as well. I got mired in the pack a bit and then the second red flag came out and that was that. Fourth, or even a podium, was on the cards today but, like I say, I’m glad all the boys are going to be ok and I’m really happy with my first run on the 2019 BMW so it bodes well for next year.”