Tom Weeden ended his 2015 road racing campaign with a weekend of highs and lows at the International Olivers Mount Gold Cup last weekend. The rising 21 year old pure roads racer was in high spirits going into the meeting on the back of a successful two weeks out on the Isle of Man for the Manx GP, where he walked away with an 8th and 6th place finish in the Junior and Senior races and a personal best average of 118.1mph around the 37.73mile course.
Saturday proved to be the ideal conditions for Weeden as the rain came down strong in the morning. Tom favours wet conditions around the Olivers Mount circuit as it levels out the playing field against the top TT riders on far superior machinery. John McGuiness, Bruce Anstey, Michael and William Dunlop, Ryan Farquhar, Dean Harrison, Lee Johnston and Ivan Lintin who have all either won or been on the podium in Isle of Man TT races were in attendance. Racing against the big factory backed teams, the privateer “Dad and lad” team would have their work cut out for a top 10 finish amongst an extremely high quality field of riders.
Practice boded well for Weeden as he went 3rd fastest in both the 600cc category and the practice for the main event – the Gold Cup, in very tricky wet conditions. Tom followed this up with a brilliant 2nd position in the 600cc qualifying session to place himself in the centre of the front row for the race later that day. Unfortunately he made a slight error on his final and fastest lap in the Gold Cup qualifying session running slight wide at the end of the back straight.
He ended up in 5th missing out on 4th place by 0.1second from William Dunlop. This didn’t deter Weeden, he knew if he got off the line well he could battle it out with the big names. He still had several top class riders on 1000cc machines behind him, whereas Tom was riding his own teams 2011 spec Triumph 675 with a huge a power deficit and considerably less electronics aids.
The rain had subsided a little by the time of the first 600 race, but wet tyres were still the only option as it remained wet under the sections of track that were covered by trees. After getting off to a decent start, Tom held 3rd place half way through the first lap. Daley Mathison crashed out of the lead at Memorial Hairpin and Tom took the opportunity in the ensuing chaos to drive past Lee Johnston who had been tangled up in the crash although remained upright himself.
This put Weeden into the lead. It didn’t last long however as Tom took a particularly tight defensive line into the Mountside Hairpin. By over defending his line to block anyone shooting past on the inside on the brakes Tom made the already extremely tight and slow hairpin even tighter. The front tyre gave way at the apex of the corner sending Tom and his bike sliding down the track. Fortunately it was a very slow crash and both Weeden and the bike were unscathed barring a broken footpeg.
Understandably he was quite annoyed with himself after crashing out of the lead but remained positive for the next and last race of the day – The Cock o’ the North main race that was cancelled last time at Olivers Mount due to an oil spillage covering most of the circuit.
Starting from 6th on the grid Tom didn’t make a great start and dropped a position into the first corner to demote him into 7th at the end of lap 1. On lap 2 Mark Goodings ran wide at Drurys hairpin allowing Tom to move back into 6th before closing in the other Goodings, Mick. He remained calm and passed Mick on the brakes around the outside going into Memorial bend at the end of the back straight. On the 5th lap Ivan Lintin crashed out in front of Tom promoting him into 4th position. He pulled out a gap on Mick Goodings and cruised home into a creditable 4th place which made up for the earlier disappointment in the 600 race.
The sun came out for Sundays day of racing, which meant it would be difficult to match the pace of the TT riders on far superior machinery. The organisers decided to make the riders requalify for all races as conditions were completely different and probably also because a few of the big names hadn’t qualified for the main race. A slightly unfair decision but there was nothing Tom could do about it so had to bite his lip and forget his qualifying positions from Saturday.
The track was still wet in places but Tom decided to run dry tyres for the 3 lap requalifier as the wet tyres would be destroyed in a couple of laps and the team simply cannot afford to do that. A few of the team riders decided to go with wets or inters and Weeden couldn’t match their pace through the wet sections of the circuit. He went 9th fastest in the 600cc session after making an error on the final lap and running over the curb, losing a chunk of time in the process.
In the Gold Cup qualifying session Tom felt he was being held up by the riders in front of him on lap 2 so he sat up and allowed a gap to form so he could get one fast lap in on the 3rd and final lap. Unfortunately he made a slight error going into the final Farm Bends section of track and ran onto the grass on the exit. This washed out the front end causing him to hurtle into the bushes at a fast pace. Fortunately the bushes offered a relatively soft landing and once he had crawled out of them he realised the bike wasn’t too badly damaged either.
Full credit to the Held leathers/gloves, Daytona boots and LS2 Helmets that Weeden uses which allowed him to walk away from the high speed crash with not a single mark on him and ready to compete in the rest of the meeting. After sitting up on his 2nd lap he lost a lot of time and only posted the 15th fastest time. Despite this he had still out qualified a few of the TT superstars who were then proceeded to be slotted in front of him on the grid, again making a mockery of the whole qualifying process. Tom was due to start the Gold Cup race in 18th position and wasn’t particularly pleased about it after originally qualifying 5th on Saturday.
First up was the Gold Cup race, by now dry tyres were the right call with only a few wet patches remaining under the trees. Weeden needed to get off the line well from so far back and he did just that. He went into the first corner aggressively and got past several riders into turn 1. John McGuinness then went down in front of Tom giving him an extra position and 3 laps later so did Michael Dunlop. He kept his head down and caught a pack of riders. Unfortunately with the extra power of the 1000cc bikes it made it difficult to force a pass as he lost too much time along the straights and on the torque out of the hairpins.
Tom found himself in 12 place with one lap to go. He forced his way past Jamie Coward on the brakes into turn 1 but was too far away from the riders in front to make a move. Weeden put in his fastest lap of the race in on the last lap to pull a gap and defend his 11th position to the line, eventually taking the chequered flag with a 2 second gap to 12th position. It was a case of making the best of a bad situation after a difficult qualifying process.
With one race left of the season, Weeden was determined to make the 600 race a good one. He got a lightning start from 9th on the grid to slot into 7th on lap 1. Dan Hegarty slotted past on the second lap to demote Tom to 8th. He remained calm and passed Mick Goodings on lap 3 to briefly return to 7th before Lee Johnston went through on the next lap. Tom couldn’t match the pace of Johnston who quickly got away but clung on for long enough to bridge the gap that had formed to Dan Hegarty in front.
Tom passed Hegarty and Bruce Anstey to move into 6th at the end of lap 5. The pack was starting to draw in William Dunlop and James Cowton in front for the battle for 4th. Unfortunately for Tom, Hegarty made a brave pass on him on the brakes into turn 1 causing him to sit up mid corner and lose a bit of time.
Weeden tried to chase Hegarty down but wasn’t close enough on the last lap and had to settle for 7th place. He was happy enough with the result considering the class of the field, but felt a top 5 could have been possible.
That’s the season complete for Tom. He is still undecided on whether to compete at the Manx GP again and go for glory or move up to the TT and also the Ulster GP. Ultimately it all relies on funding but wherever he ends up he’d like to secure a ride on a Supertwin bike for the 2016 to add to the track time available at race meetings. One thing’s for sure, he’ll be back at the Olivers Mount circuit that he loves where he is hoping to secure more podium finishes.
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