2021 was supposed to be a breakthrough year for Danny Kent. The 2015 Moto3 world champion was embarking on his first full season aboard a superbike, signing for the Buildbase Suzuki team in BSB. But, following a maiden podium at Thruxton, his season was cut short after suffering a nasty hip injury. Six months later we were there to speak to him after he swung his leg over a bike again for the first time.
All things considered, it wasn’t going badly for Danny Kent last year. Sure, a rocky start saw him crash three times in six races, but he picked up some championship points along the way at two finicky tracks to ride a superbike at: Oulton Park and Knockhill.
Things started to improve at Brands Hatch. Running in fourth place he was, sadly, forced to retire with a brake issue, but he also carded two 10th placed finishes. A career-best result of sixth came in race one at Thruxton, and in the final race of the weekend he took his first British Superbike podium finish. It was starting to come good.
A round later, though, and those ‘highs and lows of racing’ we hear so much about were made abundantly clear. A fairly innocuous crash at Coppice - which should have resulted in an angry off rider stalking off through the gravel, shouting obscenities in his helmet - ended with a barrel-rolling GSX-R1000R landing on top of him, fracturing and dislocating his hip.
“It was a complicated injury,” he reflected when asked about it. “I was bed-bound for a week waiting for an operation, as they could put it back in place but it kept falling out because of the fracture.”
If you winced reading that you’re not alone.
Fast forward six months and a couple of operations later and Kent is about to swing his leg over a GSX-R once more, this time at Mallory Park on a cold, windy, but dry February day. It’ll be the first time he’s ridden any kind of motorcycle since that day at Donington.
“Nervous?” we ask, and then immediately regret doing; Danny’s ridden bikes for 24 of his 28 years.
“Yeah, to be honest,” comes the surprising response. “I was driving up here and started to feel nervous. You worry you’ve forgotten what to do, worried how it’ll feel, if it’ll be okay. After every off-season you get a bit nervous, and this has been like two or three off-seasons. At least there’s no one watching.”
Ah, the benefits of riding for a team with its own race track. Thanks to being based at, and owning, Mallory Park, when there’s no other action on circuit the Hawk Racing riders have unfettered access to the track. Today, he can just ride around on a superstock-spec GSX-R, with no spectators and no stopwatch. And with that he rides out of the workshop, up to the barrier at the hairpin, and onto the circuit.
“How was that?” team manager Steve Hicken asks while we listen in, as he takes his lid off after his first session.
“Good,” comes the reply. “The hip feels okay, though I’m actually struggling with my lower back; it’s a bit stiff.” Guess six months off a bike will do that to you.
He completes another two or three sessions, before the rain eventually rolls in and cuts the day short. He debriefs with the team and gets out of his leathers before we sit down for another chat.
“It was good to get today out of the way,” he explained. “Until I’d ridden a bike again I was always going to be apprehensive about how it would go, how I’d feel. But I’ve done it and it went okay.
“I was obviously nervous that I would struggle or that it’d be uncomfortable. Even up until Christmas I’d still been struggling quite a lot. Walking around doing my Christmas shopping, it would get stiff after an hour, so the thought of being sat on a bike and moving around, it was definitely a concern.”
Which led us to the awkward question: did he think he may never come back?
“Definitely. I’ve never had a big injury before. I’ve broken a couple of fingers before but this was the first time I’d needed an operation and needed rehab. And because it was such a big injury, it was definitely a worry. Probably right up until the point I started working with Loughborough University after Christmas, something I’m really thankful to the team for.
“Working with them has really helped me build up my range of movement again and my strength, and after I saw the improvements I started to feel more confident about being able to come back.”
What about the thought of crashing again?
“To be honest, no, I’m not worried about that. It’s part of the job and I’ve done it for long enough to know that it’ll happen again. I’m not worried about the next one and damaging my hip again. It was also a freak accident and a fairly nothing crash that, normally, you’d just get up after. It’s not playing on my mind.”
With that conversation turns towards the future and the forthcoming season. He’s got himself a new teammate in Christian Iddon - one of the strongest riders in last year’s championship - and a bike that is certainly capable of winning races.
“I think Christian’s a great addition to the team and I’m looking forward to working with him. He’s been a serious title contender for the last few years and there aren’t many better riders to learn from. He’s also got loads of experience so I expect he’ll be a podium challenger, for sure.
“We know the bike can win races and be at the front, and hopefully I can pick up where I left off and push towards being a consistent podium threat. We were on the podium in only the fourth round, there are riders that have been in the championship for years and not been on it, so I think we can only take the positives from the start we made to last year.
“I’m obviously still developing as a superbike rider. The biggest challenge is still getting to grips with using the rear brake on corner exit and under acceleration. I’ve never had to before as the bike’s either not had the power or had the electronics to keep the front down, so it’s still new for me but, we’re getting there.
“I think Silverstone could be good opening round for us. We know the bike works well there, it’s a good track for me, so if we can make a strong start and build some confidence, there’s no reason we can’t have a good season and aim for the Showdown.”