Hawk Kawasaki - 2004 British Superbikes Review
2004 has been without doubt Hawk Kawasaki's most successful British Superbike season to date. Not only did the official Kawasaki entrants claim their maiden British Superbike win, they also claimed their first pole position, their first double podium and enjoyed a successful road racing debut. These stunning results provided a thrilling first season of racing for the all-new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R.
Already heralded as the most focused road bike of 2004 by the world's press, the Kawasaki ZX-10R had a lot to prove in the world's toughest domestic motorcycle championship, BSB. Completely developing a new race motorcycle from scratch was the first challenge of 2004 for Stuart Hicken's Hawk Kawasaki team. And with no race kit available every part needed to put the green machine on the grid would have to be developed in-house and on a tight time scale.
Work began in earnest on a cold December evening at the end of 2003 when the first two ZX-10Rs arrived at the Hawk workshop in full road-trim. Despite the late hour of arrival the team were all present to witness the unveiling of their new machines. Barely hours after being delivered the first of the ZX-10Rs had been fully disassembled, ready for work to begin on turning them from road bike to race bike.
Over the following weeks parts were developed, fitted and refined as the bikes began to take shape. With 2004 riders Glen Richards and Scott Smart eager for their first outing the Hawk team arrived at home circuit Mallory Park for their initial test. Freezing conditions and snow flurries would not convince the Hawk pair to delay their outing and both riders were eager to get out on track. Hours later and both were in, warmed up and raving about the potential the ZX-10R contained. More miles at Mallory and a test day at Silverstone allowed the team to cram further development into the remaining days before the 2004 season opener.
Within two months the standard road bikes had been transformed into race bikes and Hawk riders Scott Smart and Glen Richards lined up on the grid at Silverstone in Northamptonshire for the inaugural race of the 2004 season. With no race kit parts available the Hawk machines ran virtually stock engines - they even had to be started with an ignition key! However, superb chassis development and the fantastic standard ZX-10R specification allowed Smart to claim seventh position in the opening race. Smart was to go even better in the second race and claim fifth. This was clearly the start of something...
Weeks later, at the fifth round of the championship in Mondello Park, Ireland, the hard work and sheer determination of the Hawk squad paid off. Continuous development, including more engine work and further chassis refinement, combined with a confident on-form Scott Smart to take a sensational maiden victory for the well-liked underdogs. The first victory for Hicken's Hawks in the British class was also the first worldwide superbike victory for the Kawasaki ZX-10R. The cheers grew even louder as Aussie Glen Richards powered home in third position completing Hawk's first ever double-podium. Hicken was clearly overjoyed at the progress his team had made, "It's everything I've ever dreamed of, I'm over the moon. The whole team has worked so hard and they really deserve this success."
After turning a brand-new road machine into a British Superbike race winner in barely 20 weeks the Hawk Kawasaki team continued their rise to prominence in the championship. However as Smart chased hard for further visits to the podium at Thruxton, the following round, team-mate Richards suffered a less-than-happy time. Clipping the high curbs at the chicane Richards was hurled from his bike and suffered a nasty compound fracture to his left arm, forcing him to sit out several rounds. A stunning performance at this year's TT made John McGuinness a sensible substitute and the road specialist rewarded the team with a podium in his first outing on the ZX-10R at a rain soaked Brands Hatch. Hicken quickly offered the likeable Northerner a ride until the end of the season. McGuinness also introduced Hawk Kawasaki to road racing - entering and finishing second in the Ulster GP with only five laps of practice and taking further podiums later in the year at Scarborough.
Meanwhile Smart was continuing to underline Hawk's position as one of the leading teams in the championship. Knockhill, Scotland, provided an exceedingly damp venue for his next visit to the top step of the podium. Working closely with his technicians and team owner Hicken provided the perfect tyre and chassis setup for the inclement conditions. With McGuinness following similar advice the Hawk Kawasaki pair moved to the head of the field and started to stretch an advantage over the pack. The unfortunate McGuinness crashed out at the hairpin leaving Smart to ride a perfect race and finish in excess of 18 seconds ahead of second place.
The team's third BSB victory could not have a come at a better location. Arriving at their home circuit, Mallory Park, the pressure was on. Smart claimed the first ever pole position for the ZX-10R and another milestone for the Hawk team. Pushing hard in the first race of the day gave Smart a podium but the determination to win was there for all to see. Hawk spirits soared later that afternoon as he took the chequered flag in first position and delivered a home victory.
As the season end approached the team were delighted to welcome back Richards, still recovering from his injuries but determined to compete before the end of the season. A ride-out at Croft in practice left him too weak to race but two weeks later he joined fellow Hawk riders Smart and McGuinness on the grid. To the amazement of the crowd and the team the likeable Australian pushed hard and worked his way through to third but hadn't the strength to hold on for the last lap and slipped back to a credible fifth. This heroic display led him to be crowned Sky Sports rider of the day.
Claiming fourth in the British Superbike Championship with a brand-new machine, developed in-house by one of the smallest teams in the paddock is no mean feat. But the incredible 2004 season seems a distant memory for Hicken and his squad as preparations for next year get underway. New workshops, new partnerships and a new signing in Australian Dean Thomas prove that Hawk Kawasaki have no time for resting on their laurels.
They may have exceeded the expectations of many already, but their goal is clear.