Ray’s title to lose
With two rounds of the British Superbike Championship Showdown complete and just one remaining, it’s probably been the most dramatic shootout we’ve ever soon but one thing’s clear – it’s Bradley Ray’s title to lose.
Champion in waiting – Ray
Ray has been nothing short of a revelation this year with the Rich Energy OMG Racing Yamaha rider going from a very occasional podium finisher to a frequent race winner and no-one can argue that he doesn’t deserve to be crowned champion at Brands Hatch this weekend.
Right from the very first round Ray has been contesting the race wins and his three wins at round eight at Snetterton saw him head into the Showdown on a crest of wave, a wave he’s continued to ride throughout the Showdown.
Nowhere was that seen more than at Oulton Park, where the Showdown got underway, with a stunning lap in qualifying that saw him lap three quarters of a second than anyone else. It would be unfair to say the rest of the field were demoralised, but it certainly strengthened Ray’s confidence further and he’s carried that momentum with him ever since.
He’s taken full advantage of both his position in the Showdown and the misfortune of others and two wins and four podiums in total from the last six races has seen him stretch his lead from 13 points to 66. With just 75 points now available, it’s fair to say he’s the champion in waiting with one hand firmly on the trophy.
Fighting for second
Two riders are still in with a mathematical chance of lifting the title, Glenn Irwin and Tommy Bridewell, with just one point between them but realistically they, along with Lee Jackson are fighting it out for second.
Bridewell brought himself into contention with a win and two seconds at Oulton on the Oxford Products Ducati, going from eighth to second in the championship standings. But he couldn’t sustain that form at Donington where he could only manage a best finish of fourth.
That saw him overhauled by Irwin and slip back to third overall and although his form at Brands Hatch is exemplary, he knows he needs something to happen to Ray at the Kent venue if he’s to have any chance.
He’s just going to the final round with the intention of trying to win all three races, which is exactly what Irwin will do too. The Honda rider hasn’t won since the opening round, but his Showdown form has been strong, finishing all six races inside the top five, three of them being podiums. Second overall would be his best ever position in BSB,
Jackson, meanwhile, cannot win the title but is only nine points behind Bridewell and ten adrift of Irwin. 2022 has been his standout year in BSB, taking his maiden victories and whatever the outcome at the final round, it’s been a superb year for the Cheshire Mouldings FS-3 Kawasaki rider.
Coming into the Showdown, the smart money was on the title being fought between Ray and the McAMS Yamaha duo of Jason O’Halloran and reigning champion Tarran Mackenzie.
O’Halloran had been the only rider to match Ray’s form during the normal part of the season, winning seven races in a sequence of 12 successive podiums. His form had dipped slightly at Cadwell Park and Snetterton, but he was still expected to mount another title challenge.
The same applied to Mackenzie who, despite missing the first six races of the season due to injury, had bounced back to take nine podiums, including three victories, in the 12 races immediately ahead of the Showdown.
He was in the ascendancy, but Oulton Park saw both riders hopes disappear in a flash, O’Halloran being knocked off not once but twice, and both times at the same corner, Druids. He sat out the final race due to the battering he’d received in the spill and although he returned at Donington Park just over a week ago with another podium, another spill in the final race summed up his disastrous Showdown.
Mackenzie crashed on his own accord in the first race at Oulton and did the same in the second, sliding back in front of the oncoming pack where the unfortunate Peter Hickman – who, along with Bridewell had caused the collisions with O’Halloran – was left with nowhere to go. The resulting impact left Mackenzie with a broken femur and his season, which had started with numerous injuries in testing, ended in the same manner.
The opening Showdown round at Oulton wasn’t just a bruising affair for O’Halloran and Mackenzie, it also marked the end of Rory Skinner’s title aspirations. Team-mate to Jackson, the Kawasaki rider had gone into the Showdown fifth in the title standings but ran into the back of Christian Iddon in the second race when a small amount of rain caused the leading group to bunch up.
Skinner was trapped between the rear wheel and seat unit of Iddon’s Buildbase Suzuki in a sickening manner but whilst that, amazingly, only caused abrasions, broken bones in his hand put him out of the meeting as well as the following round at Donington. Iddon was knocked out in the crash and also suffered a broken hand, so the field suddenly became considerably depleted.
The crashes at Oulton led some quarters to question the validity of the Showdown, citing riders trying too hard in the three-round Shootout as the cause. In truth, the crashes all came about as a sequence of unfortunate incidents, all of which could have happened at any other round.
One thing that has happened as a result of the crashes and subsequent injuries to riders has that the Showdown has had a topsy turvy look about it in some of the results. Rather than the title contenders contesting the wins and podiums in each race, a number of other riders have come into the mix.
Nowhere was this seen more than at Donington Park where Tom Sykes took a double victory and could well have taken all three wins had it not been for O’Halloran clattering into the back of him during the final race.
The Ducati rider has been largely anonymous during the season with the 2013 World Superbike Champion taking just one top six finish prior to the Donington round, and that was the weekend before at Oulton.
More often than not, he’s been running in the 9th-12th area and whilst Donington is a happy hunting ground for him – he took nine straight WSB wins there between 2013 and 2017 – no-one saw the turn around in form being so spectacular. He dominated the first two races and whilst the sceptics said it was all due to it being contract time, no one could deny how well he rode.
Rider’s Cup remains open
Unlike the main title, the battle for the BSB Rider’s Cup – awarded to the rider who finishes ninth overall and the best of the non-Showdown runners – remains wide open with the BMW pairing of Peter Hickman and Danny Buchan level on points ahead of the final round.
At the start of the season, both would have had high hopes of making it into the Showdown, having done so before on a number of occasions, especially Hickman, but they were far too inconsistent, Buchan managing just ten points at Thruxton but then winning two races two weeks later at Cadwell being a prime example.
More often than not, the duo have been at the wrong end of the top ten but the Rider’s Cup gives them both a chance of a small consolation at the season’s end. FHO Racing’s Hickman took a podium at Donington with Synetiq’s Buchan recording a best finish of fifth and there’s little to choose between the two riders.
Leon Haslam sits 22 points adrift and will be aiming to overhaul both of them at the final round. Like Sykes, it’s been a relatively disappointing season for the VisionTrack Kawasaki rider, so he’ll be hoping to end the season on some sort of high.
The last round at Donington Park was massively overshadowed by a crash involving Chrissy Rouse in the final race, the former National Superstock Champion tragically succumbing to his injuries four days later.
It’s no exaggeration to say the Newcastle rider was one of the most popular riders in the paddock and he’d impressed many observers with his on-track performances this season, his first full campaign in BSB. He was much more than a racer though, the fully qualified Maths teacher also hosting, along with good friend Dominic Herbertson, the Chasin’ the Racin’ podcast, one of the most successful podcasts in the motorcycle industry.
His passing has left a huge hole in the series, one that will be felt massively by the tight-knit BSB community, and everyone at Devitt passes on their deepest condolences to Chrissy’s family and friends.
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, Classic Racer and Road Racing Ireland, as well as being 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 PBM Ducati, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. 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