Aruba.it Racing Junior Team rider on his rookie season in STK1000.
This season was an important one for 2015 Australian Superbike Championship winner Mike Jones, making the trek to live in Italy after securing a deal with the official Aruba.it Racing Junior Team to contest the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup. The end result was fifth in the championship with a handful of credible performances to his name, including podium finishes and front row starts along the way. CycleOnline.com.au tracked down Jones this week to reflect upon his time in Europe and what’s in store for the future.
Firstly, congratulations on a really good season. How was it from your perspective?
Thank you very much. It was a pretty awesome experience to be able to go over there and race in the Superstock 1000 championship, especially with the Aruba.it Racing Ducati team. That was pretty cool. It was certainly difficult and challenging to come from Australia and go and live in Bologna, Italy. Then to travel around racing over there is a whole new ballgame I suppose, well and truly outside my comfort zone, but I believe I managed to handle it quite well and learn a lot along the way. Halfway through the year I started to find my feet a bit and things came together and the results started coming a lot better. I think overall the season went quite well, in terms of how I performed, so overall I’m very happy.
Did you meet your personal expectations, in terms of performance and the final championship position of fifth?
Yes. My goal for the year was to finish inside the top five in the championship and I finished fifth, so that was good to achieve that goal. I would have liked to have won a race or won races throughout the year, however I finished second at Lausitzring, which was a pretty cool achievement for me. Even though our outright race pace in the last few rounds wasn’t quite there for the podium, I think I showed that I was still strong in the races and just essentially showing my potential I suppose, to be able to come and jump into a new pool into a new category, having never have raced at that level of racing and compete with the best riders there, so I think I showed potential. To be able to qualify on the front row of the grid in the last three races was pretty good – I think I missed out on pole position at Portimao and Jerez by a couple of thousands of a second – so overall I achieved my goal.
What was the highlight for you over the course of the season?
I suppose making the podium at Lausitzring, because that was a bit of a breakthrough. That podium came after the summer break over there and I just made really good progress with my riding. To make it on the podium there was great. I think also too, apart from the outright race results, just those front-row starts were highlights for me. To be able to essentially be as quick as anybody else out there and qualify on the front row of the grid was a pretty cool achievement.
Were there any times that it was harder than you’d anticipated? I know you have experience in Europe from earlier in your career, so you were aware of many challenges over there.
Yes, I think definitely. After Assen it was quite tough, as I got involved in that nasty crash. Even though I didn’t have any obvious physical injuries from that crash, I still suffered a quite significant injury. That just continued on throughout the year, which made it quite challenging and difficult because of a lot of things behind the scenes, which most people don’t see. They just see the results, but there are a lot of things which you deal with in your training and preparation for the races. That was probably the biggest thing, just trying to recover throughout the year and still be able to perform. That was the biggest challenge for me.
How was life away from the race-track over there for you in between rounds, being based over there full-time?
I was staying with my girlfriend Carly in an apartment near Bologna. We were trying to find ways to keep fit and active and simply keep doing stuff. The first half of the season was not too bad, as we were on the go every few weeks with riding and a little bit of testing, so that was okay as we always had something to do. Once we had the summer break, I only rode the bike four or five times from June to July on [laughs]… so that was quite difficult. You are trying to find things to keep yourself motivated and focused. It was good for the both of us, as we got to explore and travel around a little bit, especially Italy. We got to see some of the major cities and it was a good experience to be able to have that opportunity to be able to see the places that we were living in, so it was good.
Just how different is a STK1000 bike compared to what you had been used to in Australia?
It was quite a bit of different. In terms of outright performance, probably not a great lot in regards to the engine. Just the seating position on the bike, we run a different sub-frame, so the seating position is different, the foot-pegs are different and so are the handlebars. Just the way you sit on the bike is different to the way it is here, so that was something I had to try and get comfortable with and learn to understand the way the different weighting position on the bike, which affects and changes things. On top of that they run a much more sophisticated level of electronics and telemetry, so you spend a lot of time analysing data and working with the crew chief to understand what’s going on and be able to come up with the best plan to be able to progress and move forward. That is probably the biggest thing I guess, is the electronics side of things. You can make adjustments on the go while you are riding and you can’t really do that so much here in Australia. With that adds more variables to the equations, as there are more things to try and understand and try and work out what’s going on, so you try and not get lost in it. You try and make the right decisions and keep moving forward.
And what’s on the cards for 2018 at this point?
It’s actually quite difficult. I thought how I performed this year it would have been a little bit easier to be able to have another deal for next year. This year was really good with the Aruba.it Racing Ducati team, as they really looked after me. The only issue is that the junior team won’t continue again in 2018, so that essentially leaves me without a ride. I’ve been in contact with Ducati at this point in time, but there is not a whole lot going on. It was good with the Aruba.it Racing Ducati team as I didn’t have to bring any money to the team – it was a proper job and they looked after you, but now it’s back to being like any other ride where you have to bring money with you to the team. It’s just a difficult situation really. I think it’s a matter of timing, which has made it difficult, so right now I’m looking and searching for the best opportunity to stay racing in Europe, particularly in the Superstock 1000 championship. As I said, I believe I showed potential there and I believe I can win the championship with a second year, however right at the moment there is no deal that has been done. I’m chasing sponsorship to be able to secure a ride in the Superstock 1000 Championship again for next year.
Well we definitely hope it works out, it was good to see you over there this year and fingers crossed you can get another deal for next year. Thank you mate.
Thank you, I really appreciate it. It was a great year and hope to be back again next year.