Patience is a virtue
Five years ago Bradley Ray was on the fast track to the world stage but recent years have taught the talented Brit the value of patience. Since becoming the second youngest winner in BSB history Brad is leading the 2018 Bennetts BSB field but the Englishman isn't getting ahead of himself, as he seeks the chance to prove himself on the world stage.
Winning rarely comes easy in elite motorcycle racing. There are times when it appears to come easier for some riders than others but when Bradley Ray claimed his maiden British Superbike victory at Donington Park it was the culmination of a three year journey through the racing wilderness. The 20-year-old had been on a fast track to success in his younger days. A Red Bull Rookie in 2012 he stood on the podium at his home round, won the opening round of the following season but his career momentum stalled in 2014 when he failed to win and finished the season fourth in the standings. The Rookies Cup typically sees riders given a maximum of three years to prove themselves and having been beaten in his final season by Jorge Martin and Joan Mir there were few options available for Ray in 2015. Racing in various British championships and the CEV Moto2 class it was a challenging season. A Moto2 world championship debut at Silverstone offered a glint of hope but as the sole FTR in the field he was up against it. With his back against the wall and momentum sucked from his career a move to British Supersport in 2016 beckoned but a once bright future looked bleak.
“I think that over the last few years I've learned that it's not about getting to world championship racing at any cost it's about having the right opportunities at the right time,” said Ray after his Donington double. “When I look back I had a duff year in 2015 because I had left Red Bull Rookies and I wasn't really sure about what class we should race. I did some STK600 and some Moto2 but I knew that racing in different series wasn't the best plan.
“I needed to do a full championship in 2016 so I went to British Supersport. It wasn't a great start to the year but from the third round to the end of the year we had a really good run. Last year Hawk signed me for the Superbike season and that was a big learning curve! Getting the first podium at Oulton Park and pushing for the top eight at the end of the season was really positive towards the end of the year. We worked really hard during the winter with the team really improving the bike and I focused on my fitness. I've changed my style a bit too and we came to Round 1 expecting to fight for the top five or a podium so to walk away with a double win is unbelievable. It gives us all so much more confidence.”
The most important six inches on any race track are the ones inside the crash helmet. If a rider is confident they will be fast and show their potential. Over the winter Ray clearly built up his belief that he could contend in BSB this year and use it as a springboard to once again proving his worth to the racing world.
“It was such a great weekend at Donington and it was nice to win both races. It was important to back up the result from Race 1 because it's easy for people to say 'he only won because of the conditions' but to do the double and to open a lead on Leon Haslam at Donington proves a lot for us. We know that the bike is working well and we just need to keep working in this direction. It's important for us not to get ahead of ourselves and we need to keep grounded. There's 24 races left in the season and anything can happen.
It was a bit surreal to be standing on the podium and looking down and seeing all the guys that have been my heroes. In Race 1 I had a comfortable gap with a couple of laps to go but suddenly I saw +0 on pit-board for the last lap and I knew that I'd have to dig deeper! I had some moments on that last lap where I was nervous and it was difficult to keep calm. In Race 2 I was able to keep cool and hit all my apexes and win again. I just wanted to stay focused and get the job done. Experience is the biggest thing and getting used to leading and winning races is so important. You understand how you need to deal with the pressure.”
Dealing with the pressure of expectation will be something new for Ray but one that is unlikely to faze him. The 20 year old is grounded and mature beyond his years and that will stand him in good stead for the coming rounds. The biggest element in Ray's favour however is likely to be the maturity that comes from past disappointment. Having seen his dreams of a Grand Prix future disappear he now knows that winning in BSB is the only path to the top and a road to WorldSBK is clearly the target now for the Kent native.
“Every rider wants to race on the world stage and BSB is a path towards that. If we can keep doing what we're doing it can open doors. Alex Lowes is a good example because he won the British championship and went to WorldSBK and over the last five years he's been able to do a really good job. That's the aim for me and I want to try and achieve that. “I think that the past has thought me that it's not about getting to Grand Prix it's about getting the right opportunity. When I left Red Bull Rookies all I wanted was to find a way into MotoGP but coming back to England and going through the British championship means that WorldSBK is a more realistic target and from that hopefully to go to MotoGP in the future. I want to race on the world stage but I'm patient for it because of what happened in the past.
I'm on a Superbike now so the aim is to go to WorldSBK now because moving to Moto2 is illogical now. It would be another year of learning a bike and starting from scratch. “Last year was such a big eye opener for me because when you move to a Superbike it's not about the 1000cc or the power. It's about getting the most from the electronics and the tyres and the team. It's about everything and to make a Superbike work is a big challenge. Last year the goal was to learn as much as we could and knuckle down as much as posisble to improve all the time. Coming into this year I knew that we could fight for the top five and at Donington we proved that we can fight at the front in dry and damp conditions. It's a massive confidence boost to prove our potential.”