Four rounds into the WorldSBK season Alex Lowes heads into his home round trying to get back to where he wants to be. After the hardest season of his professional career he’s rebuilt his body following a series of serious injuries and now feels ready to put his hard work to use and get back to challenging at the front of the field.
Last year, his second with the Kawasaki Racing Team, was trying. The injuries mounted up from even before the first round of the year with a flat track crash leaving the Englishman with a serious shoulder injury. The Grade 4 separation of his AC joint was enough to severely curtail his pre-season testing schedule and the opening rounds were trying affairs despite a great start to the campaign in Aragon.
Three podiums at the opening round gave Lowes and Kawasaki hope but that was the highlight of his season. Lowes would only take two more podiums in 2021 as the injuries mounted.
Through the pain
"I worked hard to get ready for the opening round of last year,” said Lowes ahead of his home round at Donington Park. “I had missed a lot of pre-season because of my shoulder injury so it was a lot of work to be ready for the start of the season. Given the shoulder injury the opening three rounds were pretty acceptable but then we tested at Navarra.
“That test was before Donington and until my last run it was a really good test! I had a crash during the test but was still feeling good until I had a very fast crash at Turn 1 on my last run of the day. It left me with broken bones in both feet. That really set me back as couldn’t I use my legs at all on the bike and that exaggerated the shoulder issue because I was always compensating for it on the bike. My home race was ten days later and I managed to finish on the podium podium but it was a really tough and tiring weekend.”
Despite the injuries, which left Lowes struggling to walk without pain, he claimed a podium finish in the opening race of the weekend. Spurred on by this he was feeling confident on a damp morning for the the Superpole Race. As the fastest rider on track he was pushing for a potential win before crashing at the Old Hairpin. It was a crash that he admitted was rash after touching a white line but pushing for a home win it was a crash that was brushed aside by his speed despite the injuries.
Knocked off course
“From the Navarra test onwards last year was a really tough season for me. I had to have injections to help me deal with the pain and just to allow me to ride. Even with that I was still fast and could qualify well but last year was a struggle. Every time I had some momentum something happened. In Barcelona I was challenging for a podium in the Superpole Race but got passed on the last lap. I wasn’t annoyed because I thought it was a good sign for what I could do with the rest of the season.
“Then I got knocked off at the first corner of Race 2 and I broke bones in my hand and wrist. That one was really tough because it wasn't my fault. Crashing is part of racing and being hurt comes with this job but if you get hurt in a crash that's not your fault it can be quite tough to deal with. My season was basically over after that crash. I tried to ride at the other rounds but it was just making things worse.
“It was very tough mentally because I was still fast even with the injuries. I qualified on the front row at Jerez and in the first race in Argentina I was fourth. That race in Argentina is one that I’m very proud of because I knew the condition that my body was in. I woke up on Sunday morning and the pain in my wrist was so bad that I couldn't even brush my teeth. I knew that my season was over. I tried to ride in Jerez, Argentina and Indonesia but I had to withdraw from each race because of the pain.
“I love racing and I put so much into being the best I can be so the second half of last year was so tough mentally. I wasn’t enjoying riding because it was so painful and uncomfortable. The worst part of our job is that no-one cares about your story. Last year was so tough at some points that I could have just stopped racing.”
The close of 2021 thankfully allowed Lowes to close off that chapter of his career and start afresh in 2022. WorldSBK is now so competitive that it is impossible to be competitive if you aren’t fully fit. The performance balance of Kawasaki, Yamaha and Ducati is so close that everything needs to be perfect to win for any of those teams. With Honda now in the mix the battle is even more intense.
“The level of the other machines in WorldSBK has clearly improved a lot over the last few years and the depth of the field is mega now. I’m enjoying the challenge that comes with that. We've so many great bikes and riders now that you really have to be at your best at all times to be at the front. I think that, personally, the hardest thing for me is that everyone thinks the Kawasaki is the best bike on the grid. Johnny has won six titles and Tom won one on the bike but it's different now and I think we can all see just how well Johnny is riding but the bike hasn't developed at the same rate as other bikes.
“I think that the team are fantastic. They do a really good job of maximising the bike but it's also important to see that Johnny is riding with years of confidence that comes from winning so much. I’m coming off the toughest year of my career and it's not easy. I love the challenge of going up against Johnny because he's the best ever in WorldSBK. He's won so many races and titles and it's great to measure yourself against that.
“When I joined the team I was coming off a really strong 2019 season where I finished third in the championship. I beat him a couple of times in the first few rounds but since then we’ve had Covid and I've had a lot of injuries. I'm so hungry and motivated to get back to my best form and I really think that we're close to doing that. I'm riding more consistently than I've ever done. I genuinely believe that I'm riding the best I ever have.
“I've got more experience and I've had the hard times of last year that have helped me improve as a person. This season, apart from the mistake in Race 1 at Aragon I’ve been solid at each round. We had fastest lap in Aragon Race 2, I was second on the grid at Assen so I know that my confidence is building and I feel like I’m just one good race away from having a series of strong results. The best thing about a tough season is that the next one is is a new slate. You get ready for it and know that it can all be so different. People don’t see what goes on away from the track and during the winter I worked really hard.
“I started a big programme to get my shoulder back to full fitness. I’ve not missed a training session, even when the twins were born I was determined that I was going to keep working hard. I was so motivated to get back to full fitness. When we started riding again I felt so strong on the bike. I've been through a really tough time last year and now that I'm fit again I feel so much better on the bike. I'm able to be very consistent until the end of races.”
For Lowes the challenge will be to get back on the podium at his home race. Donington has always been a happy hunting ground for the 31 year old but now he needs to prove that the hard work has paid off. With two rounds before the summer break, and the Suzuka 8 Hours, he’s ready to prove his worth once again.
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