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Whirlwind Wildcard Weekend for Katie Hand

Whirlwind Wildcard Weekend for Katie Hand

British rider Katie Hand joined the Yamaha R3 bLU cRU European Championship – arguably the most competitive class in WorldSBK - for a wildcard appearance at her home race of Donington Park, and although she was in at the deep end, she came out of the experience smiling.

Back in April of this year, Katie Hand flew out to Misano with her father Mick and her main sponsor Jon Beech, and despite Katie’s keenness to get a taste of the R3 bLU cRU European Championship the trio had no idea what to expect from the two-day test. After being welcomed to the series by organiser Gianluca Montiron and all from Yamaha Racing, Katie got to know her fellow riders and enjoyed a full day on track on a brand new R3, an experience she says was both incredibly fun yet eye-opening - and left her hungry for more. 

“I had so much fun during the test in Misano, I really enjoyed riding the bike.” stated Hand “The competitors are from all over the world so the talent level is really high, but they’re all so friendly. I had the best experience and I couldn’t stop thinking about the chance of coming back to give a race weekend a try…” 

So, when she spotted Donington was on the calendar for the 2023 R3 Championship, the decision to return was an easy one, especially as she knows every twist and turn of the classic British track.

“I’m so glad that Donington was included on the R3 calendar this year, it’s one of my favourite circuits and I’ve ridden it a lot over the years. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to come back and showcase myself on the world stage, and I felt I’d learn lots of new things too.” 

The rider from Lincolnshire has been racing in the British Superbike Championship for the last couple of years, and competing on an R3, so investigating what the bLU cRU series could offer her made perfect sense in terms of career progression and her overall goal of reaching World Superbikes. Whilst in Donington, Katie met with WorldSBK riders Toprak Razgatlıoğlu and Bradley Ray, as well as WorldSSP’s Glenn van Straalen, who were all able to share their thoughts about the tricky British track with Hand. Yamaha Europe Road Racing Manager Andrea Dosoli also popped by the R3 paddock to meet the young wildcard and offer words of support and encouragement.

The Yamaha R3 bLU cRU European Championship is an inviting environment full of friendly faces off track, but it’s also an incredibly daunting one when it comes to shutting your visor and getting down to business. The World Superbike paddock’s youngest riders, ranging from ages 14-20, are quick, keen and courageous and seldom a race goes by without a huge leading group battling it out ferociously for race wins on the path to title glory and an automatic place in next year’s WorldSSP300 Championship. 

With the series’ regular riders already having completed three rounds between the Misano Test and Donington Park, coming in mid-season was always going to be a tall order, but Katie was ready for the challenge. She quickly bonded with the other competitors and with the R3 mechanics, who were all willing to offer plenty of help and advice. And although tuning the bike to her ideal set-up took time, she improved with each session and felt more and more at home in the class. The track walk, regular briefings and data analysis with rider coach Lorenzo Alfonsi also helped to put her at ease.

“It took me a little while to get used to the bike, and I did need to make a few adjustments, especially with gearing, but the mechanics and coach guided me on that and they were so helpful. I just need a bit more time on the bike, because I’m loving being out on track.”

A solid first outing in Race 1 saw Katie in a photo finish behind her nearest rival after she battled it out all race long and tried to stay with the pack, improving her time with each circulation. The determined young rider felt disappointed with her Race 2 result of 16th, feeling that with more time she could’ve improved even further, but this didn’t dampen her happy spirit or infectious smile as she said:

“I want to do it all over again, I enjoyed it more than I thought possible, I’ve had the best weekend and loved every second of it. I’ve learned so much from this whole experience, and I’ll never forget this race weekend in the World Championship paddock.”