Britain has enjoyed so many success stories across all three Grand Prix classes this year with Danny Kent bringing the Moto3 field to its knees, Sam Lowes swimming against the tide with Speed Up, claiming his first Moto2 win, while Bradley Smith has shown his satellite rivals the way in MotoGP. For the fans set to attend the British Grand Prix next month, they will have another.
For a number of years, Bradley Ray has been a Grand Prix rider waiting to happen. A race winner in Red Bull Rookies, competitive in CEV, and successful on anything he rides on the British Superbike support package, but the GP ride remained a dream unfulfilled, until now.
In a month’s time at Silverstone, Ray will enter as a wildcard in the Moto2 class aboard a British motorcycle, with FTR returning to the fold for the first time since Valencia 2013. The announcement came following negotiations with the company’s former owner Steve Bones who has agreed to loan one of the machines to the 18 year old for his maiden GP outing.
“The main aim for every racer is to be in GP and obviously it can’t be anywhere better than a home Grand Prix to be honest, especially on an English bike, the only English bike out there”, a delighted Ray told The Checkered Flag. “It’s a lot of pressure but, at the same time, not a lot of pressure because I haven’t got anything to lose for the championship.”
Ray has shown through his career though that he has no problem handling pressure. After all, if racing in the CEV Spanish Championship doesn’t place pressure on the shoulders of a 15 year old Briton, nothing does. Months after starting his Spanish adventure, Bradley was not only competing, but winning, in Red Bull Rookies with Karel Hanika forced to give best in Texas.
But CEV is the true proving ground for the Grand Prix stars of tomorrow and Ray was in no doubt that Spain was the place to continue his motorcycle racing education, and he was in pretty illustrious company.
“CEV is where you want to be if you want to make the step to GP, that’s for sure”, he admits. “The competition isn’t far off the GP times and you can see from Jorge Navarro and Fabio Quartararo. Fabio’s got two podiums and two pole positions which just proves CEV is the championship to be in if you want to make it to the top level”.
Two more seasons in the CEV Moto3 championship saw consistent points finishes, culminating in a career-best fifth in Portugal, before Bradley took the decision to switch classes for 2015. His first season in Moto2 doesn’t exactly come on the most familiar of machinery, Ray racing for the Italian Vyrus squad, a manufacturer known for their exotic road bikes.
The challenge isn’t fazing Ray, although the Kent youngster acknowledges that the campaign hasn’t exactly gone without a hitch so far.
“The Moto2 bike I ride in the Spanish championship is a development bike. It’s a hub-centred bike so the tests and races that we’re doing, we’re basically trying to develop the bike to make it better. The first round in Portugal was pretty good, I got 16th and 20th and the bike was handling alright, although it could’ve been better. The team found some solutions for Catalunya but we had quite a few problems with the front jumping into corners and when the track temperature was higher, it got worse. With Catalunya such a bumpy track, it made the whole set-up worse. The team have gone back to their factory in Italy and are thinking of how to redesign the bike to try and help the problems. Every time we go out on the bike, we’re changing things but this is their first year putting a bike on track. They sell them as road bikes but this is the first year that they’ve made a race bike out of their road bike”.
Ray won’t be competing again on his Vyrus until September 6 but there will be plenty to keep him busy in the meantime. In fact, Bradley has almost become the all-rounder of British motorcycle racing. Having started the year with victory in the British Motostar Championship, Ray has moved into the National Superstock 600cc class with successful results at Oulton Park.
While it reflects a love of the sport, the switching between championships also demonstrates a willingness to learn and Ray believes the extra experience in Superstock 600 is aiding the much-talked-about transition from Moto3 to Moto2 which has caught out so many.
“With the CEV championship, there aren’t many rounds and during the season, they always have a two month summer gap because it gets too hot in Spain. In that two months you want to be riding any bike you can and this time we’re starting to ride the 600 because it helps for Moto2 with the wider tyres, bigger engine, the weight of the bike compared to Moto3, all little things that will help me get used to Moto2 and help me improve. It’s quite a big jump to get used to the tyres, the weight of the bike and how to ride it. In Moto3, you go into the corner as fast as you can, go round as fast as you can, and out as fast as you can but in Moto2, you’re as late as you can on the brakes, get it stopped into the corner, then stand it up and get a good exit so you’re not constantly carrying loads of corner speed. It’s all about getting a good exit and braking as late as you can. It definitely takes a while to get used to be but when you do, it’s definitely a lot faster.”
Next month, Ray will have perfect opportunity to showcase his abilities on Moto2 machinery with the eyes of the world upon Silverstone and thousands of spectators flocking to the home of British motorsport to cheer on their latest GP winners. Bradley believes the phenomenal success of 2015 is proof of this country’s strength-in-depth, something he also wants to demonstrate himself.
“Danny’s riding well this year. He’s got a good team, good bike and a good mentality and I think he’s going to win the championship for sure. Sam Lowes has got that Speed Up how he wanted it to work last year which the team didn’t really want to change. Obviously, the changes he needed have helped him go faster. It just shows that there is British talent out there, you just need the right equipment and somebody to pick you up.”
“We’ll be doing Thruxton and Cadwell on the Superstock 600 and hopefully FTR are going to try to get a few hours at Silverstone if we can to try and get a bit of track time on the bike. It’s no good trying to go into a world championship level class having only ridden the bike once so if we can get a feel for the bike and get a base setting ready for the weekend, we’ll be able to compete.”
Compete, he certainly will. With the field so strong in Moto2, predicting his eventual result is impossible, but having worked tirelessly for this golden opportunity, Ray will leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of glory. Simply making it onto the Grand Prix grid is success itself, but Bradley will head to Silverstone intent on making sure it is merely the beginning, rather than the pinnacle, of his Grand Prix adventure.