A mega weekend for one of the big-name rookies in 2023, with the British rider proving his worth and keen to continue the form onwards
Astounding; impressive, sensational, sublime. All of those words are applicable when talking about Brad Ray’s (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) performance during Sunday’s Race 2 at Imola. The 26-year-old from Kent in England scored a fantastic P6, delivering the best of his rookie year, a first top ten of his WorldSBK career and his team’s best result since they graduated to the WorldSBK class last year.
Racing at Imola for the first time, Ray seemed to enjoy his debut at the Italian track, with the Yamaha rider frequently challenging the top ten throughout Free Practice. However, a second row start in sixth was the highlight of Saturday, again the best he or the team have managed in Superpole, ahead of the likes of Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team). Race 1 didn’t go so well as he dropped back early on, with “a few little issues” seeing him come home in 15th. An early mistake in the Superpole Race saw him drop down to the back of the field before recovering up to P16, meaning he started Race 2 from 10th on the grid.
Getting a flying start, Ray was already up to eighth on Lap 1 where he’d stay until Lap 12, passing both Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) and Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) for sixth. Holding it until the chequered flag, it was a career-best finish as well as the best result for Sandro Carusi’s Yamaha Motoxracing outfit in World Superbike. Ray was the second Independent and second British rider to take the chequered flag, as he grows in stature throughout a first year of WorldSBK action.
Talking about his weekend, the 2022 British Superbike champion was elated with a first top six of the year: “Unbelievable! Firstly, it’s my first time here at Imola, but it didn’t take me too long to get used to the track, which was nice. I’ve been really strong this weekend but honestly, racing has been the difficult part for me this year, I haven’t been qualifying very well so the races have been difficult to make steps forward. I probably out-qualified my pace yesterday, that’s why I dropped back in the race and we had a few little issues in Race 1 that hindered me going forwards. In the Superpole Race on Sunday morning, we had a problem with the gear shifter, so it was nice to put that to bed!
“I got a really good start in Race 2 this afternoon, and I knew I had to dig in on the first laps to make the time up, to stay in the front group. I did the best I could on the opening laps and set my rhythm, doing the best I could do. It was all about ticking the laps off!”
With it being Ray’s first time at Imola, previous experience at similar-style tracks back home in his native United Kingdom certainly helped: “It’s not an easy track to come to; it’s more of a UK-style track with a lot of ups and downs and blind corners that need a lot of commitment. I’ve grown up on the UK style tracks so I gelled with it straight away. The temperature has been difficult this weekend. I had ‘+0.3s’ on the board on the final laps of Race 2 so I just had to hit my markers and apexes; I knew I wasn’t very strong in the first sector but I knew that for the rest of the lap, I was quite strong. I just had to get through there and I knew I’d hold them off until the line. honestly, I’m super happy for myself, the team and for Yamaha. It shows that when everything comes together, we can do a good job.”
Talking about the importance of Superpole, it offered a true indication of what Ray was capable of: “The most important thing for me is being able to qualify very well; we’ve shown in the past races, we’ve qualified around 18th and it has been difficult to make that step up to the top 12 or top ten. This weekend, it was important to qualify in P6 and then I started Race 2 from tenth, so in the group where I needed to be. By digging in on the opening lap, I learnt a hell of a lot and throughout the weekend on a whole. I’m hoping we can carry on with this momentum moving forwards.”
Team principal Sandro Carusi was also elated with his team cracked the top ten for the first time in 2023 and with an all-time best result of P6: “We’ve completed what we thought might be the most difficult weekend of all in the best possible way. Sixth place today repays all the work put in during recent rounds. Bradley is proving to be a real professional and I think our team is also showing significant growth.”