Cory West and the Splitlath EBR team are still celebrating following what can only be described as the perfect weekend at the Pan Delta Series running at the Zhuhai International Circuit in southern China.
Having only landed in China in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Cory took to the track for the 9:30 a.m. slot of open practice. It did not take him long to get to grips with the Zhuhai track. ZIC was originally intended for Formula 1, notably wide and very fast. Cory initially commented "it is fun, fast and easy to learn but there is plenty of challenge there to put together a perfect lap." Over the course of the three 30 minute sessions of the day, Cory pulled his lap times from the mid 1:40s to 1:37s. Just one second off from the lap record of 1:36.612 currently held by Canadian racer Dan Kruger.
Friday free practice saw Cory put in impressive lap times, posting second overall in FP1 and topping the sheet in FP2 with a 1:37.101. However with up to 40 bikes on track at any one time, finding space for a clear lap was incredibly difficult.
Qualifying on Saturday morning offered perfect track weather conditions for some fast laps. The Qualifying groups were split in two, with the faster guys heading out first. With this extra space it soon became apparent something special was going to happen. The lap times kept tumbling until Cory for the first time in the history of the series broke the 1:35 barrier to the "Wooo"s of the teams and fans crowded around the timing screens. Ultimately Cory set a 1:35.859, a clear second faster than his nearest rival Li Zheng Peng on the factory Yamaha R1.
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Race 1 kicked off on Saturday afternoon, Li Zheng Peng had a target painted on Cory's back and it proved to be an incredibly exciting race in front of the capacity grandstand, who were on their feet as these two racers fought it out. Li certainly proved himself on the R1, the first race weekend having moved up from the 600s. However Cory was a class above in experience and skill, giving Li a lesson in "flat-track" technique on big bikes. Cory ultimately broke away from Li around lap 5 to come home 2.5 seconds clear at the end of the 10 lap race, as Cory took full advantage of lapped traffic to hold up the chasing Yamaha.
Race 2, scheduled for Sunday afternoon was looking doubtful as the Audi R8 cup race was called short due to excessive amounts of "kitty litter" used on the track, in an effort to clear up an earlier oil spill. The first three corners were completely covered, clogging the radiators and brake ducts of the R8s. However, the organisers got the track cleaned up ready for the Superbikes. With uncertain grip levels, Cory spent most of the sighting lap with his feet dragging on the floor to feel out the surface. He was confident when he arrived on the grid that he could take advantage of the reduced grip levels to get a jump on the two factory Yamaha's (P2, P4) and Dan Kruger's Kawasaki right behind him in P3.
The race began well for Cory as he took an early lead over his rivals, who were tentative over the available grip. The race was then red flagged in lap 2 following the collision between a couple of riders further back in the pack. At the restart Li onboard his R1 was not going to let Cory run away again, overtaking Cory early and setting his personal best lap time ever. They fought it out right from turn one, exchanging first place over and over again. Cory noted after the race that Li would not let him outbreak him, so he sucked him deeper and deeper into corners until he found his limits. The trick worked and around lap 7 Li checked up, having been drawn too deep into the corner. From there Cory pulled away, again using back markers to put space between himself and Li.
By the final lap, Cory had pulled 2.5 seconds from Li and after a look over his shoulder he wheeled the bike down the main straight in front of the grandstand to the standing ovation of the crowd, who had been thrilled from beginning to end.
Cory and the Splitlath EBR team now hold the lead in the Championship from Li Zheng Peng and the factory Yamaha team. However, with rumours of the new R1 due to be delivered by the next round in June, it's far from a cut and dry outcome to this series. Everyone will be raising their game for round 2 in the hot and humid mid summer race.