The opening round of the 2018 British Superbike Championship got underway in typically British conditions Donington Park at over the Easter weekend but one rider who seemed unaffected in the slightest was Bradley Ray.
At just 20 years of age, Ray has been earmarked as one to watch, primarily for the promise he showed in his maiden BSB season in 2017 when he finished in 11th overall. He took a podium finish at Oulton Park and finished a close third overall in the 2016 British Supersport Championship, which made him a definite contender coming into the new season.
But few could have expected him to have left the Leicestershire venue on Easter Monday with a double race victory to his name. That’s exactly what he did though and whilst youthful exuberance could be a phrase used for the iffy conditions, the fact of the matter he is that he never put a foot, or wheel, wrong.
Of course, one round and two wins doesn’t automatically make him the title favourite – and experienced riders like Shane Byrne and Leon Haslam may not have been pushing to their limits given the weather, preferring instead to look at the bigger picture – but he has to be now considered amongst them. He’s only going to get quicker as his experience increases so both his and the Buildbase Suzuki’s progress will be eagerly watched.
Title favourites Byrne and Haslam had solid if not spectacular weekends with both perhaps mindful of the fact there was a lot to lose on a weekend where the cold and wet weather played havoc with proceedings.
Haslam claimed pole position with an extremely rapid lap time despite temperatures barely above seven degrees but tyre trouble affected him in both races, He did, however, claim the runners-up spot in the second race.
Byrne too took a second place in the opening encounter and backed this up with a solid fifth second time out. Having scored zero points at the same meeting twelve months ago, he’s in a lot better position than what he was then and will look to start winning races at Brands Hatch next time out, a circuit where he’s been incredibly dominant.
Weekend to forget
Whilst Haslam and Byrne both finished on the podium at least once, the third rider almost everyone expects to be in the Showdown come September, Josh Brookes, fared considerably worse.
Riding now for the official Yamaha team, McAMS, a poor qualifying performance led to two equally poor race results and 11th and 12th wasn’t what the Australian would have expected especially as his old team, Anvil Hire TAG Yamaha, were finishing on the podium once more with new recruit James Ellison.
Dan Linfoot has been part of the BSB Championship since 2009 but it wasn’t until last year that he won his first race, promptly going on to win his second. With the Honda Fireblade now in its second year, the Yorkshire rider’s third and fourth place finishes at Donington almost went unnoticed.
Good in both the wet and dry, the Honda Racing rider made the Showdown in every year between 2014 and 2016 before slipping back to tenth last year so will be hoping for a much better campaign this time around. And he certainly made a good start.
Arguably the biggest winner of the weekend was the weather with the UK seeing some typical Easter conditions. At one stage, the whole race schedule was in doubt with both heavy rain and snow threatening to wipe out Easter Monday’s race day but, in the end, only two races from the 14-race programme were lost.
That’s testament, again, to the brilliant job done by the organising MSVR and whilst riders expressed concerns at times, particularly with the cold temperatures, they’d all agree the right decisions were made.
The results may have been a bit topsy-turvy and it may take until the second round before we see everyone show their true colours but it was definitely an entertaining start to the new BSB season.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.