The opening round of the British Superbike Championship took place under clear blue skies and blazing sunshine at Silverstone over the Easter weekend but whilst that was a far cry from 12 months ago – when Donington Park was hit with arctic conditions – the surprises and drama continued to come in heavy supply.
Mixed emotions at Yamaha
The McAMS Yamaha pairing of Jason O’Halloran and Tarran Mackenzie have been the consistent front runners throughout the winter tests and they took that form to Northamptonshire, getting the weekend underway in superb style with a 1-2 in qualifying.
They duly ran at the front in the opening race but whilst O’Halloran looked set for his second career BSB win, Mackenzie had other ideas and, keen to grab his first, nipped up the inside at the final corner.
There was a gap but it was a very small one and in the inevitable contact, it was the Australian who came off worst and down he went. Mackenzie went on to take the win only to quickly have it taken away with a penalty imposed and it’s fair to say most people wanted to be a fly on the wall in the Yamaha garage afterwards!
O’Halloran was fuming in the immediate aftermath and although knocking your team-mate off is the cardinal sin, especially with the line in sight, he would probably have gone for the gap as well.
Unfortunately, his day ended cruelly in race two when a mechanical failure led to an early retirement and instead of coming away with a bagful of points, he came away with none. His day will surely come but Mackenzie made amends to cross the line first once more and this time took a deserved win. Having shown promise in 2018, he now looks like a serious contender.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the weekend was Josh Elliott, the Ulsterman coming away from round one as the joint Championship leader, no mean feat given he’d only competed in a total of nine BSB races before the weekend got underway.
If truth be told though, he too had been quick during pre-season on his OMG Suzuki and never put a foot wrong in either race despite finding himself in positions he’d never come close to before.
He knows how to win races though having won the 2015 Pirelli National Superstock Championship and it was OMG who gave him a lifeline half way through last season when he left his previous team. He gave them a win at Thruxton before switching to the BSB series for the last few rounds but with a previous best finish of tenth, few would have predicted his results to have been so good – top six maybe but not first and second.
Team-mate Luke Mossey also shone, in fourth and fifth, so it’s clear OMG Racing, now in their second year of BSB, have learnt a lot from their maiden season and the challenge now is to stay at the head of the pack week in week out.
Baptism of fire for Redding
If Scott Redding wasn’t aware of just how competitive the British Superbike Championship is, then he is now with the former MotoGP star having a bit of a mixed bag in his series debut.
Third in qualifying was followed by a good third in race one on the Be Wiser Ducati although he acknowledged it was a fortunate podium after O’Halloran had crashed out at the final corner.
He then found out just how rough and tough the races can be in the first few laps as he got shuffled back down the pack early on in race two before being nudged off by Honda Racing’s Andrew Irwin.
Fortunately, he emerged relatively unscathed with no further damage to his injured leg but, as he rightly said after race one, he needs to be more aggressive. Perhaps he should be the one doing the pushing and shoving early on and not be the one on the receiving end!
He fared better than team-mate Josh Brookes who suffered an engine failure in qualifying and then another one in race two. That, coupled with an issue with the kill switch in the first race, meant he, like fellow Australian O’Halloran, left Silverstone pointless although he remained philosophical afterwards and rightly pointed out that when everything was going well, he was as competitive as anyone else which gives him plenty of cause for optimism for the rounds ahead.
The competitiveness of this year’s series could clearly be seen in both qualifying and in the races with incredibly close lap times and whilst some of the ‘big’ names had their fair share of ups and downs, there were plenty of impressive performances elsewhere.
Rider’s Cup Champion Tommy Bridewell had the worst possible start to the season after being knocked off in free practice – causing at least £27,000 worth of damage to the Oxford Racing Ducati – but he bounced back well to claim fourth and fifth place finishes whilst Danny Buchan, quick all weekend, overcame the disappointment of a first race ninth to take an excellent third on the FS-3 Racing Kawasaki in race two.
Former British Supersport Champion Luke Stapleford (Buidlbase Suzuki) impressed with fifth and seventh and the same applied to Irwin who took sixth and seventh, outperforming his more illustrious team-mate Xavi Fores in both races. Dan Linfoot also rode well on the Santander Salt TAG Yamaha.
The biggest underperformers of the weekend were the two BMW teams, Tyco Racing and Smiths Racing, and the reigning champions Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki but it was to be expected from the former given they only took delivery of their bikes a month ago and missed all of the pre-season tests.
All four riders – Christian Iddon, Keith Farmer, Peter Hickman and James Ellison – found themselves up against it but Iddon gave a glimpse of what may lie ahead with some strong lap times in qualifying and all four riders spoke of the undoubted potential with the new S1000RR.
They’re only going to get stronger as the year goes on so it will be interesting to see how they progress and if, like Hickman has done for the last two seasons, they can have representation in the final three-round Showdown once more.
It was also a weekend to forget for Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki with 11th place for Glenn Irwin in race two their best result. There’s plenty of work to be done for the Bournemouth-based team in the week’s ahead.
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 Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, 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.