With the first nine rounds now complete, the British Superbike Championship heads into its Showdown phase with the leading six riders set to contest the title over seven races at the three remaining circuits – Assen, Donington Park and Brands Hatch.
As one team manager described it, we’re now into the business end of the season with one of Josh Brookes, Scott Redding, Tommy Bridewell, Danny Buchan, Tarran Mackenzie or Peter Hickman set to be crowned 2019 BSB Champion.
Head to head
Despite all of their previous success, the Paul Bird Motorsport team have never had a 1-2 in the Championship – indeed, this is the first time they’ve had two riders in the Showdown – but they’re never going to have a better chance than what they will this year.
The Be Wiser Ducati pairing of Brookes and Redding took a win apiece at Oulton Park last weekend to end the first nine rounds with seven victories each but it’s Brookes that goes into the Showdown with a slender three-point lead courtesy of picking up more podium credits over the course of the ‘qualifying’ part of the season.
That shows just how little there is to choose between the duo and whilst a lot of talk has centred on the final three rounds playing into Redding’s hands due to two of them being held on Grand Prix circuits, Brookes has won previously at all three of them and as he succinctly pointed out, at the end of the day it’s just tarmac and corners!
Both riders have hit form at the right time and had it not been for a spill in the third and final race at Oulton, Brookes would have had a slightly bigger lead. Wins at Thruxton, Cadwell Park and Oulton give him plenty of momentum but the same applies to Redding and with no love lost between them, both of them will more than fancy their chances of becoming champion.
Bridewell delivers – at last
After retiring from race one and losing out on the run to the line in the second, Bridewell’s despair turned into elation when he won the final race of the weekend at Oulton, the Oxford Racing Ducati rider’s first win of the season – and, somewhat surprisingly, only the third of his career.
The 31-year old has been the only rider to consistently take the fight to Brookes and Redding this season but although he’d stood on the podium on ten previous occasions before Oulton, the top step had continued to elude him much to his own disappointment and frustration.
It looked like it would be another weekend of close but not close enough after retiring from the first race and then not only losing out on the win in the second but being relegated to third on the dash to the line. He couldn’t have been more downbeat than what he was after that race declaring in the TV interview he simply wasn’t good enough and he was letting the team down.
It was a harsh self-assessment and a view not shared by anyone else as both him and the team have proved their title-winning capabilities all season. The win came in record-breaking style though as he set a new lap record of 1m33.941s – the first official sub 1m34s lap of the Cheshire circuit – to further prove he’s riding better than ever.
With the monkey now off his back, it could be just what he needed going into the Showdown and one thing you can be sure of is that he’ll give it 110% in each and every race. Make no mistake, he has as much chance as anyone else of becoming BSB Champion.
The three remaining Showdown contenders – Danny Buchan, Tarran Mackenzie and Peter Hickman – weren’t in quite as good form at Oulton although Buchan again proved his consistency with two fourths and a fifth in the three races.
Mackenzie has the most podium credits of the three due to his strong early season results and although injuries mid-season blunted his challenge, he’s coming back to full fitness at the right time of the year.
He has to be considered a threat and although Buchan and particularly Hickman have a lot of ground to make up (the Smiths Racing BMW rider is 47 points adrift of Brookes), all three will be strong at the final three rounds. Hickman always goes well at Assen whilst Buchan, as mentioned, has become more consistent this season and already has two wins to his name.
However, all three will go into the Showdown as outsiders for the title and have a lot of work to do if they’re to spoil the Ducati Panigale party.
Ray of light
Sixth overall and a race winner in 2018, Bradley Ray was tipped by many to be a title challenger again this season but he’s been a shadow of the rider he was last year and it was only at Cadwell Park last month where he appeared to have turned the corner.
His pace there wasn’t rewarded with any results but at Oulton it was as the Buildbase Suzuki rider ended the weekend with a brace of second place finishes as well as a fourth to indicate he’ll be a front runner for the remainder of the year. He was the only rider all weekend to get in amongst the trio of Ducati’s.
“The season hasn’t gone to plan at all and I haven’t been anywhere near as strong as what I wanted,” Ray said afterwards. “We made a big step with the bike at Cadwell in terms of the set-up and brought that confidence to Oulton so I’ve got to be happy with the results this weekend.”
The youngster’s form tailed off towards the end of last year and prior to Oulton, he’d only had one top ten finish all year. However, a trip to the Suzuka 8-Hours, where he finished in eighth place, ironically with Bridewell as team-mate, looks to have lifted his confidence and turned his fortunes around so he could be a championship spoiler at the final three rounds.
As Brookes mentioned at Oulton, everyone is riding hard and everyone is pushing each other so whilst the final seven races are set to be thrillers, it’s a narrow tightrope being ridden so we can expect, as always, a number of twists and turns in between now and the end of the year.