After wrapping up his second domestic title in three years, we sat down with 2016 Pirelli National STK600 Champion Jordan Weaving to chat about how his career has climbed since our first article and the transition he made from riding a customer 50hp KTM RC250R weighing 80kg to an NMT No Limits Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R with 130hp hauling 170kg of motorcycle around the same British circuits, each with their own unique demands on rider and machine.
We first featured Jordan back in 2013 in an article you can read here. Since then his career has been on an upward trajectory as he secured the 2014 Motostar Moto3 Championship aboard his customer KTM machine after a season-long battle with Joe Irving and his factory KTM RC250 before his most recent success in STK600.
“It’s been a great journey so far”, the tall, lean 19 year-old told us. “It’s been such a learning curve in so many ways. Going from our own tight-knit little team working out of a gazebo in a championship where we knew that whenever we finished a race we’d more than likely be on the podium to a team like Russo Racing with three riders across two classes, mechanics, a data engineer, a suspension technician, hospitality unit and all the things you’d expect of a factory-supported team. It was a huge amount to take in!”.
It wasn’t only the team that was a culture shock to the South African. The change in machinery was to be the biggest transition, and a far from an easy one, as Jordan readily admits.
“Getting to grips with the 600 was without any doubt the hardest period of my racing life. Many people said it would be the biggest jump I’d ever make in terms of power and weight and they weren’t wrong!”.
The former Red Bull Rookie recounted his first day of pre-season testing with his NMT No Limits Kawasaki team in Spain with a wry smile. “Honestly, I was full of excitement at the prospect of finally riding the bike after a long winter just training and thinking about it. I got on full of smiles but got off a little scared and slightly bewildered! I couldn’t pass anyone, I couldn’t hold a line and braking markers were a thing of the past for the time being as I over-shot corner after corner. For the first time in my life I’d gone from champion and multiple race winner to wondering if I’d ever be able to ride a ‘big’ bike!”.
“I put too much pressure on myself in those early days, no question. I saw what the guys who’d recently stepped up, like Kyle Ryde, Taz Mackenzie, Andy Reid and Joe Francis, were doing and thought, ‘I can do that’ but the reality was that it was harder than I ever realised it would be. The harder I tried, the more mistakes I made and the more mistakes I made the more I thought I couldn’t ride it. I was feeling nothing short of lost at one point.”
“Setting up the ZX-6R was another new aspect to me. It’s crucial on a 600 whereas on my Moto3 we used the same setting all year apart from a click here or there depending which circuit we were at, but the change to full Ohlins suspension was a whole new world of learning. In the beginning my feedback was just awful; trying to learn the bike but then having to translate back to my crew what the bike was doing was pretty difficult when I wasn’t even sure what I was doing, let alone the bike!”
Crashing at the second corner on his STK600 debut at Donington Park and then illness and another crash at the second round at Brands Hatch didn’t help the mindset of the former Red Bull Rookie. Oulton Park saw a small change of fortune, a race finish that at the time felt just like a win despite chronic arm pump, a common issue that causes restrictions to the blood flow to the arm and hand muscles, reducing the ability to brake and work the clutch. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, as it’s known, is a common issue for racers and often affects a rider’s progress as they make a step up in machinery, even at GP level.
“I just couldn’t control the bike the way I wanted to with arm pump an
d that really held me back on learning more about the bike in terms of what I could do with it and the lines I could take…which really are massively different to the Moto3 lines I was so used to, as you’d expect. To help with track time and to help get me more comfortable on the bike, we tested at Knockhill before the Snetterton round. We made some adjustments all round but the biggest gain was dropping the footpegs 2mm, that small margin was enough to give me the feedback I was looking for and helped me to steer the bike better. 2mm really doesn’t sound much, but it’s enough to make a difference, as any racer will tell you.”
Fifth place next time out at Snetterton and comfortably running a pace that would have seen him on the podium the year before, the epiphany had arrived for Jordan. Regular top ten finishes followed before taking his maiden STK600 podium with second place at Cadwell Park and then immediately backing up the promise with third place at Oulton Park next time out. The season finished with a return of 78 points and 5th in the championship table.
2016 started with Jordan as favourite to lift the STK600 title, a mantle that didn’t sit well with the unassuming Gloucestershire resident. The season got off to an inauspicious start as a exceptional qualifying was marred by a rear tyre delamination while sat in a comfortable third place. Third in the wet at Oulton Park and then punted out of the lead at Donington Park on the final lap meant the season wasn’t off to the best of starts.
Again, it was Snetterton that proved the turning point for Weaving. Second place there set off a run of results that were the model of consistency. Six podiums from the next six races including a maiden class win at Thruxton followed by further victories at Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Donington Park. When asked what the secret to his successful campaign was, the new Champion was typically pragmatic.
“Consistency was always going to be the key. There were some strong riders this season but we were all destined for bad luck along the way. Fortunately I got mine out the way early! My Qualifying performance was so much improved for this year. If you’re not on the front two rows then a podium is highly unlikely, such is the pace of these boys, so that was first priority. Second priority was to finish. I was so comfortable on the ZX-6R this year, I developed the same feeling I had with my KTM where I could put it just about anywhere I wanted, which gave me so much confidence in us both.”
“I believed in me, my NMT No Limits Kawasaki team believed in me and after Snetterton, despite the 48-point deficit, we knew we had the consistency to challenge every weekend. That 6-race run was the best of my career, I was never off the front row, took four Pole Positions, four race wins, a second and a third after the red flag at Cadwell Park. We just kept our heads down a worked the same as we always had.”
When we talked about the final round and sealing the championship, the 19-year old’s eyes lit up. “That was the most incredible final lap for me. When I won the title in 2014 I didn’t know until I returned to Parc Ferme, no on-track celebrations, just confusion as I rode back in, so I really looked forwards to acknowledging the crowd after the Brands Hatch race that year…which didn’t happen as I was taken out on the first lap!”
“The final round this year was so special. We were in a good place for the championship, I didn’t have to risk anything, which was good as the conditions were pretty sketchy at best! Crossing the line to take the championship was the pinnacle of my career, so far. For me, my team but most importantly my family who’ve given up so much to help me continue to get where I want to be. A big highlight of the weekend was a special one-off gold helmet from Shark that my brother handed to me on the slow down lap, I had absolutely no idea! A day I’ll never forget, that’s for certain.”
As the STK600 page closes for Weaving, the top three always move on from the series, a new chapter will begin in 2017 as he makes the step up to STK1000. Who with remains to be seen but we’re quite sure we’ll be hearing plenty more about Jordan Weaving as the seasons progress.