With two rounds gone of this year’s British Superbike Championship, Glenn Irwin and the BeerMonster Ducati have seized control, but the new points structure is keeping the pack tightly bunched with just four points currently covering the top three riders.
Irwin the man to beat
Irwin’s lead may only be four points after the first six races, but the Uslterman has proven to be the most consistent so far with five podiums from the first six races. From the flat surface of Silverstone to the undulations of Oulton Park, Irwin and the F23 Ducati V4R have looked a formidable proposition.
Two of those podiums have been wins and having ended 2022 as the strongest rider, Irwin has brought that form with him into the new season. Indeed, he’s finished in the top five in the last 17 races and it’s that sort of consistency that wins titles.
Of course, there’s a long way to go – 27 more races to be precise – but he couldn’t have wished for a better start to his second tenure with Paul Bird’s team. The new F23-spec Ducati is clearly a step forward from the previous model and with a rapid team-mate in the shape of Tommy Bridewell, Irwin has all the motivation he needs to continue his rich vein of form.
Best start for Bridewell
Bridewell was also back on the top step of the podium at Oulton, the most successful venue on the calendar for the Wiltshire rider, with a start to finish victory in the second race and although he couldn’t back it up with more podiums, fourth and fifth means he’s second overall in the championship after the first two rounds.
The results – a victory, two seconds, a third, a fourth and a fifth – mean it’s the best start he’s made to a championship and with the combination of rider and machine clearly a winning package, it’s what Bridewell needs to be doing on a regular basis.
That’s something he’s struggled with in his career, with just nine wins from his 365 BSB races, and he admitted at the conclusion of the meeting that he was missing that last little something compared to team-mate Irwin. The two riders are very evenly matched though, and that rivalry could be what Bridewell needs to spur him on to bigger and better things.
Brookes’ resurgence continues
Leader after the opening round, Josh Brookes’ resurgence continued at Oulton as he took another win and although he lost the lead to Irwin, he still sits pretty in joint second overall with Bridewell.
The ups and downs of Oulton represented a completely different challenge on the FHO Racing BMW when compared to Silverstone, a former airfield completely flat in nature, and the early signs are that he’s going to be competing for the title he last won in 2020.
He’s clearly been revitalised by the move in team and manufacturer although he’ll be acutely aware further work is required as he could only manage fifth and sixth in Oulton’s other two races.
He was far less of a threat in the longer format races compared to the Sprint race he won but there’s always a lot of learning to be done when you make a switch like he’s made. That’s clearly a challenge he’s embracing and, in theory at least, he’s only going to get stronger.
Haslam makes big strides forward
Just like Brookes, Leon Haslam looks to be a new man and a major threat in 2023 and, after taking a trio of sixth place finishes at the opening round, he finished on the podium in all three races at Oulton Park.
The former champion’s ROKiT BMW Motorrad team all came together at the last minute but after running a stock engine at Silverstone, he upgraded to the 2023-spec version at Oulton and the benefit could clearly be seen in the results.
Two seconds and a third has brought him right into contention, currently sitting in fourth overall, and whilst Oulton has always been a happy hunting ground for him, it’s clear he’s much more at home on the BMW M1000RR compared to the Kawasaki he rode last year.
He also has experienced crew chief Simon Green with him and with the next round taking place at Donington Park, a circuit where he’s done more miles than anyone else, he’ll be looking to maintain his form and get back to winning ways.
After winning the very first race of the season, Kyle Ryde proceeded to go backwards at Silverstone, but the opposite rang true at the second round at Oulton as he got quicker as the weekend wore on.
The LAMI OMG Racing Yamaha was anonymous in qualifying at the Cheshire venue, ending up down in 16th, but from that moment on, he went on an upward trajectory, fighting his way through to seventh in the Sprint race.
With conditions more favourable on Monday, his pace in the longer 18-lap races was a lot stronger and he was a more prominent figure in the leading pack. Fifth in the opener was then followed by a strong third, his 11th BSB career podium, in the final race of the weekend which left him fifth in the early season table.
The series visits Donington Park next, Ryde’s favourite track and one where he’s excelled at in the past including victory there 12 months ago as well as being fastest at the official tests earlier in the year.
Disaster for O’Halloran
Jason O’Halloran’s Oulton Park jinx continued with crashes in the first two races seeing him add to his collection of bumps and bruises picked up at the Cheshire venue.
After a steady performance in the wet qualifying session, it all began to unravel for the McAMS Yamaha rider – who suffered two big crashes at Druids last year when the Showdown got underway – in Sunday’s Sprint race when he highsided spectacularly exiting Cascades.
Monday started even worse for O’Halloran when he again crashed at Cascades, this time losing the front on the way in and sideswiping the unlucky Josh Owens in the process. That put him back in 17th on the grid for the final race where a last lap, last corner pass on Dean Harrison saw him claim tenth for his first finish at Oulton in six races.
It all means he’s scored just 41 points in the first six races which already puts him 50 behind the pace setting Irwin. He won’t be panicking just yet but it’s clear he needs to need start scoring, and performing, well sooner rather than later.
Irwin and Honda show form
The second of the Irwin brothers, Andrew, was back close to his best at Oulton Park with three top ten finishes, two of which were in the top six, elevating the Honda Racing rider to sixth in the early standings.
After qualifying in seventh, Irwin took a solid sixth in the Sprint race and then had long spells in the front three in Monday’s longer format races, including a period in the lead, but fourth was ultimately his best result across the weekend.
That came in the second of the three races, losing third place to brother Glenn at two-thirds race distance, but he then looked on course for a podium, at least, in the final race when he led in the early stages. However, a troublesome arm saw him fade back to ninth in the second half of the race although he was happy with his weekend’s work.
“The final race was frustrating as I faded a little bit after putting everything into the morning race,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with the bike and it was me, I just had a sore arm. I take away the positives though, it is a long season, and we now go to Donington which is a track that I go well at.”
Indeed, three of his four BSB wins have come at Donington with 50% of his career podiums also coming at the Leicestershire venue, statistics that could make him a formidable threat in three weeks’ time.
Upds and downs for Hickman
Peter Hickman’s topsy turvy start to this year’s British Superbike Championship continued at Oulton Park but there were more highs and lows with two top six finishes being the undoubted highlight.
Fastest in the only dry practice session, the FHO Racing BMW rider had to settle for eighth in qualifying, held on a damp track, with a strong sixth taken in the first race where his pace around the undulating 2.69-mile circuit could clearly be seen on the M1000RR with the fastest lap of the race.
However, he was unable to capitalise on his front row position when he crashed at Old Hall corner on the very first lap, just milliseconds after grabbing the holeshot. Left somewhat bewildered by the spill, Hickman had to start the final race from eighth and although his pace wasn’t quite as strong as the previous day, he was able to take a solid sixth, one place behind team-mate Brookes.
It was a timely boost for Hickman who, like a number of other riders, now heads to the North West 200 where he’ll again start as one of the main favourites in the Superbike and Superstock races around the 8.9-mile circuit linking the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine.
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