Looking at the race winners from the second round of the 2018 British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch – Shane Byrne and Leon Haslam – it would be easy to think that normal service had been resumed especially as the duo have also slotted into second and third overall in the table.
The duo have yet to hit top gear but with a fourth place apiece at Brands as well, they’re racking up the points like the seasoned pros that they are. Podium credits and cementing themselves in the top six is the main priority for the first nine rounds and even though only two rounds have gone, two of the Showdown spots look like there’ll be heading the way of Byrne and Haslam once more.
Ray still on top
However, the pair are still behind man of the moment Bradley Ray in terms of both overall points and podium credits. The Buildbase Suzuki rider may not have dominated at Brands Hatch like he did at the opening round but a close second place and a new lap record in the opening race only added to his reputation.
The 20-year old led for 28 of the 30 laps in race one and whilst everyone was expecting Byrne to make a move in the closing stages, a small mistake by Ray, when he ran wide at Paddock Hill Bend on the penultimate lap, meant that Byrne had been presented with a gift which he duly accepted.
Up until then, Ray had been faultless and whilst the mistake was only small, it was enough to relinquish the lead and ultimately the race win. It’s a mistake he’ll undeniably learn from and the early indications are that Ray intends to push the established guard all year long.
Variety is the spice of life
The second round at Brands Hatch saw a different set of three riders on the podium in each race – Byrne, Ray and Jason O’Halloran in race one and Haslam, Glenn Irwin and Michael Laverty in race two – which typifies BSB and further confirms its status as the most competitive Superbike series in the world.
The four races held so far have had three different winners and no less than eight riders have already stood on the podium with both figures sure to increase, especially the latter. The likes of Josh Brookes, Christian Iddon, Peter Hickman and Jake Dixon – to name just four – have yet to show their true colours so the racing is only going to intensify, particular once the International road races have been and gone.
Back on form
Michael Laverty had a torrid time in 2017, ending the year in a lowly 14th overall and with just one podium to his name so it was nice to see him leading a race once more. One of the nicest guys in the paddock, the Northern Irishman is somewhat of a stalwart in the series having first competed in it way back in 2005 and has regularly challenged for the race wins.
However, he failed to get to grips with the Yamaha R1 last year and, battling team issues as well, he sometimes struggled to get in the top ten. A move back to his spiritual home, Tyco Racing, looks to have got him back to his best so he’ll be hoping his return to form continues at round three.
There was also a flicker of hope for Josh Brookes whose first three races of 2018 saw him take a best finish of 11th. The former champion has been a shadow of his former self, struggling to adapt to the new Pirelli tyres but fifth place in the second race at Brands was a bit more like it. Only time will tell if the wet weather, always a leveller, masked over his problems but the BSB series needs Brookes firing on all cylinders.
Championship set to settle down
The first two rounds of the BSB series can often throw up quirky results and it’s not until round three at Oulton Park that the series truly settles down and gets going. The reasons? The weather at round one, whichever the circuit, can often be far from ideal and the majority of the field are simply glad to come away unscathed and with some solid points.
And round two takes places on the Brands Indy circuit which, with a 45s lap, doesn’t allow the riders to get into a true rhythm. It’s hectic on the Indy circuit with no time for a rest and, again, another circuit where it’s easy to be caught out particularly at the second corner of Druids on the opening lap where bumping and barging is a given.
Oulton, on the other hand, is almost three miles in length and is fast and flowing and a real riders’ circuit. Indeed, it’s the favourite of many and it’s highly likely that the Championship contenders will show their true form and come to the fore at the Cheshire venue.
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 Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. 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.