The Easter weekend marked the return of the British Superbike Championship with the opening round taking place on the National circuit at Silverstone and it’s fair to say it delivered plenty with all three races thrillers – and it was former champion Josh Brookes who came out on top.
Brookes is back!
The last two seasons have been disappointing affairs for Australian ace Brookes with 2022 being nothing short of woeful as he ended the year in an unfamiliar and extremely disappointing 14th overall.
It brought an end to his four-year tenure with Paul Bird’s Ducati team, the team with which he won his second BSB title in 2020, five years after his first on the Milwaukee Yamaha. Without a win since Brands Hatch in October 2020, was his career starting to decline or was it a temporary blip?
Well, if last weekend is anything to go by, it was simply a blip as a move to the FHO Racing BMW has clearly rejuvenated him with the second most successful rider in BSB history taking the early championship lead with first second and third place finishes. It was most certainly the Brookes of old as he made careful, thoughtful passes – all timed to perfection – and looked at ease leading the pack, controlling affairs from the front.
The results were even more remarkable given the lack of testing time Brookes had pre-season on the M1000RR with only a handful of laps in the wet spun. There will be an element of caution as the 53s National circuit lap never gives a true indication of how the season will pan out but it’s clear Brookes’ confidence is back, and the events of the last two years consigned to the past. As the saying goes, form is temporary, but class is permanent.
PBM Ducati set to challenge once more
With Brookes having said goodbye to Bird’s Ducati team, the Cumbrian businessman signalled his intentions for 2023 when he made Tommy Bridewell and Glenn Irwin his two signings, doing so before last year had even finished. There was no way he was going to have another season like he did in 2022 when neither Brookes nor Tom Sykes made the Showdown.
Both riders were familiar with Ducati, Irwin having competed for the PBM team from 2016-2018 and Bridewell having spent four years at the Oxford Products team. That was one reason for Bird signing them but, more crucially, was the fact they were on top form, having finished second and third respectively last season.
Ducati also showed their commitment to Bird with the supply of two new F23 V4R machines and, along with Brookes, Irwin and Bridewell were the stars of the show at Silverstone, both laying down an early marker that they’ll be championship contenders.
Irwin gave the newly titled BeerMonster Ducati team victory in the final race of the weekend where he was joined on the podium by Bridewell, the latter having stood on the rostrum in all three races to end round one just two points behind Brookes. Irwin was also on the podium in the second race, and all achieved at one of the unfriendliest circuits for the Italian manufacturer.
It served as a significant warning to the rest of the field and, as a footnote, Bird, who stuck by Brookes during his difficult time these last two years, was one of the first to embrace him in parc ferme after his second race win.
Frustrations for Ryde
Having been fastest throughout pre-season testing, Kyle Ryde cut a frustrated figure at the conclusion of round one’s action, victory in the first race his only rostrum finish of the weekend.
At home at one his most successful venues – he took his first BSB wins at the circuit in 2020 – Ryde put in a calculated ride, battling with the leading pack before making his move in the closing stages. However, he said afterwards it was his hardest ever BSB race and Sunday’s two races proved why.
Ryde was clearly down on power and having to ride the wheels off his LAMI OMG Racing Yamaha just to stay in contention, continually making passes at Copse corner. However, he was outgunned elsewhere and unable to use his, or more specifically, the Yamaha’s strengths.
Fourth in the second race was followed by seventh in the third where he ran in ninth and at the back of the leading pack for much of the race, unable to make any advance forward. More than 7mph down through one of the two speed traps highlighted the issue and as soon as he made a pass, he was overtaken by the next turn, so there’s clearly work to be done ahead of the next round.
Steady weekend for pre-season favourite O’Halloran
Having come so close in the last two years, especially in 2021, Jason O’Halloran has been tipped by many to finally win the title this year. Continuing with the McAMS Yamaha for the fourth successive year, the Australian has won no less than 21 races these last three season so it’s easy to see why he’s been given the favourite tag.
In previous years, luck has been in short supply when it’s mattered most and, like Brookes, he came into the opening round with very little testing time on his R1 Yamaha, the team having elected not to take part in any of the overseas tests.
As a result, both he and the team were on the back foot somewhat at Silverstone especially with their new engine specification. Nevertheless, O’Halloran was in the mix in every race and although he was unable to stand on the podium, two fourths and a fifth was a solid start to the year and gave him a decent haul of points. Once he finds the sweet spot, he’ll be back winning races.
Leon Haslam only announced his plans for 2023 a couple of weeks before the new season got underway, but he was immediately on the pace with his BMW M1000RR with a trio of sixths taken despite running a three-year old engine.
With support from ROKiT, the title sponsor of the BMW World Superbike team, Haslam, like several of his peers, had limited track time prior to the opening round but looked comfortable in the leading pack.
Utilising his vast experience, the 2018 champion got results when others maybe wouldn’t given the circumstances and with his confidence boosted he could well challenge for yet another BSB title.
Kent and Kennedy shine
Whilst the forementioned riders were all expected to be front runners at Silverstone, Danny Kent and Jack Kennedy perhaps weren’t, but both enjoyed excellent meetings with strong showings in all three races.
Kent’s first two full seasons in BSB with Buildbase Suzuki were ravaged by injury with just a solitary podium, third place, at Thruxton in 2021 to show for his efforts. With no seat at any of the stablished teams, the former Moto 3 World Champion, now 29, has set up his own squad for the new season and already looks comfortable on the Lovell Kent Racing Honda.
On the pace all weekend, he ran with the leading pack in the first two races to finish eighth and ninth but saved the best until last when he led the final race for several laps, the first time he’s ever led a BSB race. He ultimately finished fifth, but the signs are promising for his best season in BSB.
Kennedy, meanwhile, is arguably having his first proper crack at BSB with the Mar-Train Racing Yamaha team giving him the best tools he’s ever had for the task in hand. The four-time Supersport champion ran in the top three and finished with a brace of sevenths and an eighth. The duo ended the weekend with 26 points each to slot into joint seventh overall in the early title standings.
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