• Peter MacKay

Tale of the tape : How the BSB showdown contenders weigh up

The grandeur of Oulton Park’s immaculately kept grounds, provided the perfect arena for the British Superbike Championship Top 6 “Showdown” positions to be claimed. Heading into the triple header race weekend at the undulating, Cheshire circuit, only three riders had confirmed their berth in the championship deciding showdown. All of the aforementioned riders, making the most of the opportunity to ride the finest superbike ever made by Italian factory, Ducati. A gaggle of riders, on various makes of machine, headed into the weekend under immense pressure, vying for a crucial spot in the showdown. In the most competitive domestic series in the world, securing a place in the top 6 showdown is quite a boast on the CV and sure to land you a job for the following season too. Saturday’s card was packed with qualifying sessions and races for BSB’s multitude of support classes. Track action was barely interrupted all day, in no small part due to the efficiency of the well oiled BSB machine, led by top man, Stuart Higgs. The BSB field were pulling double duty on Saturday, with the three part qualifying session around lunchtime and then race one of the weekend later on in the afternoon. Misfortune struck for Danny Buchan when he crashed on another riders oil spill, sadly not the last incident of fluid spill affecting the showdown hopefuls. Giant killing outfit, FS3 racing, valiantly tried their best to get Buchan back on track to qualify but to no avail, the Essex native would start race one from the back of the grid. First to fall from the tail of the showdown pack was Andrew Irwin. Brother of North West 200 winner, Glenn, the Honda rider has been very impressive in 2019, with a race win at Thruxton in his debut season. However, inevitable rookie mistakes have crept in, contact on multiple occasions with other riders have not helped his cause either but Saturday’s events would seal Irwin’s fate. In the opening laps of race one, Irwin crashed his Honda Fireblade. No points would be scored but with two races to go on Sunday, Irwin would still be in with a shout of the showdown in his debut season, until a lack of experience let him down. In BSB, a rider is prohibited from re-mounting their machine following a crash. The rule was implemented after incidents where damaged bikes spreading fluid on the track after remounting from a crash caused havoc. Irwin ignored instruction from the marshals not to re-join the live track and duly set off up clay hill and round to the pits to retire. In doing so, fluid spilled out of his #8 Fireblade and all around the Oulton Park circuit. BSB stewards came down hard on the Northern Irishman and excluded Irwin from the starting order of race 2, thus knocking him out of the top 6 chase. Irwin’s loss would be Buchan’s gain. A red flag was thrown following Irwin’s fluid spill, at which point Buchan had miraculously climbed up to the top ten. Following the restart, the Essex ace continued his ascent up the order and completed a heroic ride to 4th place, bagging a showdown place in the process.

The diminutive, pocket rocket Tarran Mackenzie on his Yamaha R1 and the lanky Isle of Man TT record holder, Peter Hickman, held station over the weekend and clinched the final two spots in the showdown. Tyco BMW rider, Christian Iddon, was left devastated once again as he missed out on the top 6 showdown for another year.

After such a dramatic weekend at Oulton Park, the stage is set for what could be one of the tightest contests since the inception of the showdown system in 2010. Four manufacturers will be represented in the showdown top 6, a vivid demonstration of how effectively the BSB rulebook delivers such a competitive championship. Notably, Moto Rapido and FS3, two outfits which run only one bike on more limited resource than others, have pulled together all the necessary attributes required to succeed in the most competitive superbike series in the world.

This year’s top 6 line up is certainly diverse but let’s see how they weigh up ahead of the championship bout:

Josh Brookes – PBM Be Wiser Ducati

Championship Points 548

2019 has been a vintage season for the BSB veteran. Brookes’ form this season, has been very much akin to his 2015 championship year on the, then new, Yamaha R1. The hard charging Aussie has methodically adapted to the brand new, game changing Ducati V4R in the early stages of the season and quickly built to a crescendo of wins and podiums to head into the showdown on top. However, Brookes will face a stern test against Grand Prix exile Scott Redding, particularly in the first two meetings of the showdown. Assen, a staple fixture on the Grand Prix calendar, is familiar territory for Redding where he claimed a podium finish in Moto GP. Nevertheless, if the 36 year old from Bringelly can survive Assen and Donnington, two Redding strongholds, he will head into the final round at Brands Hatch, as title favourite. The rollercoaster circuit in Kent has hosted the BSB championship finale for years and has produced some dramatic finishes. Tommy Hill denying John Hopkins by the length of a wheel in 2011 will remain the most dramatic finish to a BSB race we have ever seen. Brands Hatch, has been very kind to Josh Brookes over the years. In 2017, Brookes narrowly missed out on a second BSB title as he quietly went about his business, as Leon Haslam’s championship hopes unravelled as the final day of the season progressed. BSB legend, Shane Byrne, would win the title but few considered just how close Brookes came to winning the title on that October day. After securing a double win earlier in the year at Brands Hatch GP, Brookes will head into the final round confident in the knowledge he has the pace around the Kent circuit to clinch a 2nd BSB crown.

Scott Redding - PBM Be Wiser Ducati

Championship Points 545

With a seat confirmed in the factory Ducati team in the World Superbike Championship for 2020, Scott Redding’s work in BSB almost done. Almost. The lanky 26 year old, returned to his homeland, battered and bruised after being thrown on the Grand Prix scrapheap. Many Grand Prix refugees have headed for the BSB paddock and have left with their tail between their legs, eaten alive by the piranha pool of talented riders that command the highest respect on the UK’s quirky circuits. Redding, from the very first meeting, has shown his class and rekindled his world championship career via the world’s top domestic superbike series. Quedgeley born Redding, has proven his world class credentials by adapting to a machine with Pirelli tyres that will feel like chewing gum compared to the rock hard, Bridgestone and Michelin tyres from Moto GP. BSB’s stock, Motec ECU system, with the omission of traction control, also an alien concept to the grand prix exotica Redding had become accustomed to. Redding has exhibited his prowess on fast, flowing Grand Prix style tracks with a hat trick of wins at Donnington Park. More impressively, Redding has conquered the finicky, bizarre layouts of Knockhill, Snetterton and Oulton Park. The 2013 Moto 2 runner up, has the opportunity to hit the front in the championship chase at one of his favourite tracks, Assen and the scene of his recording breaking 125cc GP win at Donnington Park. In order to stave off the fierce challenge from PBM team mate, Brookes, at the Brands Hatch triple header, building up a points advantage at the Assen and Donnington meetings will be crucial. Stakes are high for Scott Redding, a BSB title would allow him to swagger into the WSBK paddock ready to run at the front and chase a world title. If he were to be defeated by the tenacious Brookes, Redding will have the point to prove all over again.

Tommy Bridewell – Moto Rapido Oxford Racing Ducati

Championship points 524

Unquestionably, 2019 has been Tommy Bridewell’s finest season in BSB. Over the years, the man from Devizes has climbed aboard every possible superbike steed but without achieving the success his talent clearly warrants. However, since joining Steve “Wilf” Moore’s giant killing, Moto Rapido Ducati team, the last piece of the jigsaw has clicked into place. After impressing on the outgoing Panigale last year, the step up to the revolutionary new Ducati V4R has given Bridewell the tools to consistently deliver as a BSB front runner. Following the cruel fortune of leading race one when a mechanical failure on the #46 machine forced retirement, Bridewell responded with a triumphant win in race three at Oulton Park. Piloting the machine that has proved to be the bike of choice in BSB this year, Bridewell has hit a well-timed run of form, right on cue for the showdown commencing. Bridewell is certainly an outside bet for championship glory, with a 24 point deficit to make up and two PBM backed heavyweights to conquer ahead of him but he cannot be written off.

Tarran Mackenzie – MCAMS Yamaha

Championship points 515

Pocket rocket Scotsman, Tarran Mackenzie, has found comfort in the BSB championship after a difficult and brief foray into Moto 2. After a dominant 100% win rate in the early stages of the 2017 British Super sport season, Mackenzie bravely stepped out of his domestic comfort zone and joined the Kiefer racing Moto 2 squad. Grand prix racing yielded little success and proved to be a school of hard knocks for the 2016 British Supersport champion. Returning to the BSB paddock in the top class in 2018 has set Mackenzie back on the right path and has consistnely run at the front, where he belongs. Despite absences due to injuries during the season, the flyweight Scotsman has hung on to secure a showdown spot. Given how hotly contested these top 6 spots are, going into the showdown as the top non-Ducati rider is highly commendable. A 33 point gap to Josh Brookes may be a step too far for Mackenzie but with his future now secure with MCAMS Yamaha for 2020, he will be one to watch for the title next year.

Danny Buchan – FS3 Kawasaki

Championship points 514

Kawasaki loyal, Danny Buchan, has been a thorn in the side of the dominant, Ducati trio at certain circuits in 2019. Victories at Knockhill, a track he dominated at in Superstock 1000, and Cadwell Park delivered vital hauls of points to confirm his place in the showdown elite. Unquestionably, his ride from the back of the grid, to 4th place in Race 1 at Oulton Park, cementing his position in the showdown in the process, was the standout ride of the season. FS3 Kawasaki, a team still in their BSB infancy, have built a bike that has allowed Buchan to be the top ZX10-R by a considerable margin. After clinching last year’s BSB title in dominant fashion with Leon Haslam, it has been a dramatic fall from grace for Kawasaki, with most of their bikes running near the back of the field. Buchan has been the saviour for the Japanese factory this year in BSB and would be well rewarded with a factory ride in the Suzuka 8 hour in 2020 for his efforts. Although the Essex giant may be out of reach of the overall championship, don’t be surprised to see him competing for race wins as the season draws to a close at his home race at Brands Hatch.

Peter Hickman – Smiths BMW

Championship points 501

The world’s fastest road racer has undoubtedly raised the bar of what is possible in recent years, particularly around the 37.7 miles of the TT mountain course on the Isle of Man. However, the Smith’s BMW man persistently continues to point out that his prime focus is BSB. Quite a thought for his road racing rivals, who no doubt feel his focus is absolute when chasing the 135.4mph TT record holder, down the Glencrutchery road. Gloucestershire based waste management firm, Smith’s, led by the inspiring Rebecca Smith, have built up a team that has now enjoyed success at the TT, Road Racing and in various classes of the British Championship. Hickman has become a stalwart of the team and a key ingredient in their recipe for success. Staving of stiff competition from Tyco BMW rider, Christian Iddon, Hickman held strong at Oulton Park and pinched the final place in the top 6 showdown. Sadly, 47 points will be too high a mountain to climb but Hickman and Smiths can hold their heads high. Hickman remains the only rider currently able to dovetail a triumphant road racing campaign with a front running BSB programme.

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