New Zealand road-race champion Gareth Jones battled the pain and inconvenience of a broken wrist to take on some of the best superbike racers in Europe at the weekend, and still came away smiling.
The 2009 New Zealand 600cc sports production champion had been the victim of a “low-flying Hungarian torpedo” at a German national superbike championships race at Nurburgring earlier this month, the 22-year-old accidentally rammed by the Hungarian, which sent him tumbling off the track.
But Yamaha’s Jones, from Australia’s Gold Coast, put all that behind him to qualify on the front row at the latest round of the Dutch ONK Superbike Championships at Assen at the weekend by producing a gutsy ride to take the third podium spot for the day and keep alive his title hopes.
Jones lined up on the front row at Assen, alongside championship rivals Ghisbert van Ginhoven, Raymond Schouten and Jorg Teuchert, with Gino Rea just behind them in fifth spot.
“I was quite relaxed about the qualifying position as I know I can sustain my lap time during the race, also I am only at about 90% fitness after the wrist fracture and it is still painful,” said the 22-year-old Jones.
“Riding one handed is a bit of an art form and it takes it out of you because you have to compensate for not being able to push on the steering bar,” Jones said before the race.
But Jones was soon into his groove when the race started, taking what is fast becoming his trademark holeshot and leading the pack. However, with strength in his braking hand a problem, Jones slipped back to fifth spot shortly afterwards.
After several laps to settle down, Jones soon emerged as the fastest man on the track, setting a new lap record as he clawed his way back towards the front.
But his injury caught up with him and Jones had to eventually settle for third place.
The race was won by van Ginhoven with Schouten second.
The result meant that Schouten had snatched a three-point lead over Jones in the championship standings, with the series now at the halfway point.
“First of all I have to say a big thank you to Dr Mike Hayton and my medical team at the Manchester Sports injuries clinic without whom I would not be racing today,” said Jones afterwards.
“I gave it everything I had in the circumstances, I struggled with the bike because I had very little movement, let alone strength in my left hand, so applying pressure to the left bar during cornering and heavy braking was a difficulty. I compensated by using the rest of my body to coax the bike around the corners.”
His Yamaha team boss, Rob Vennegoor, was impressed with Jones’ tenacity.
“As a team we put together a great qualifying and racing package, but it was down to Gareth Jones to show the heart of a true champion here this weekend. His ability to compensate for his broken wrist in a hard race with some great riders was remarkable. The fact that he consistently beat his previous lap record by 0.5 of a second was out-standing and totally unexpected and showed real character combined with his core fitness levels and mental strength.”
Jones, who rode for Brian Bernard’s Wanganui-based Yamaha team during the New Zealand summer, was virtually unbeatable on his 600cc Yamaha R6, easily wrapping up the New Zealand 600cc sports production class title as well as riding a Yamaha R1 to third outright in the superbike class.
His superbike form in Europe this season has been similarly impressive and he will now work to reclaim his lead in the Dutch national championships, with the next round, a double-header event, set for Oschersleben in three weeks.
Dutch Superbike Championship standings:
van Kerkhoven 54
van Ginhoven 45
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com