The fifth round of this year’s World Superbike Championship at the Imola venue saw Alvaro Bautista and Ducati’s stranglehold on the series finally ended.
BSB Showdown beckons
With nine rounds of the 2018 British Superbike Championship done and dusted, the series now moves into its final three-round Showdown with the first of those three rounds – at Oulton Park – just a couple of days away.
Whilst Leon Haslam and Jake Dixon had already secured their places prior to last weekend’s round at Silverstone, the remaining spots were still, mathematically, up for grabs but it was Glenn Irwin, Josh Brookes, Bradley Ray and Peter Hickman that clinched the final four places.
The six riders will now compete for the title at the remaining seven races so it’s all very much to play for as we hit the crucial part of the season.
Haslam’s title to lose?
With 12 wins from the first 19 races, Haslam goes into the Showdown as the clear favourite especially as his lead of 45 points is the biggest ever in the nine-year history of the Showdown.
The JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider took a double at Oulton earlier this year whilst he’s also been equally successful at Assen – venue for the penultimate round at the end of the month – so the title is essentially his to lose.
Having come close on numerous occasions before, none more so than in 2017, now’s the time for the Derbyshire ace to take the number one plate and return to the World Superbike Championship in 2019 as the reigning British Champion.
However, whilst Haslam took a hat-trick of wins at Silverstone, every single one of them was hard fought with the racing ferocious, to say the least. All of the other Showdown contenders will be keen to ensure it’s not all plain sailing for Haslam and have already stated their intention to win races immediately to reduce the deficit.
Ray and Brookes have already been victorious this year with Irwin having his most successful season to date whilst Hickman, on his day, has what it takes to win races too.
Forty-five points is a big gap to pull back, especially due to the upcoming circuits being particular favourites of Haslam, but BSB is renowned for being anything but predictable so we’re all set for a thrilling finale.
Dramatic meeting for Hickman
Whilst three of the remaining four Showdown places were almost guaranteed prior to the Silverstone meeting, the sixth was anything but with as many as six riders still in contention. It ultimately came down to a battle between Hickman, Danny Buchan, Christian Iddon and Jason O’Halloran.
Hickman held the upper hand after taking eighth in the first of the three races but when his bike expired in race two due to a failed oil pressure sensor, the fight was back on. The Smiths Racing BMW rider then faced more drama on the warm-up lap for the final race when another sensor failed.
With the race being restarted after Luke Mossey’s crash, he fought his way back up to seventh only for his gear lever to break in the closing stages, leaving him stuck in third gear. He dropped all the way back to 19th and out of the points but, luckily for him, the other riders failed to score enough points and he clinched his place in the Showdown for the second successive year.
A few eyebrows were raised at the beginning of the season when Tarran Mackenzie joined the official McAMS Yamaha squad but whilst his year started slowly, from mid-season onwards the former British Supersport Champion has been a consistent front runner.
Brands Hatch and Thruxton saw him challenge for the podium for the first time but that promise was finally realised at Silverstone with three superb rides and with a second and a third, he was a thorn in the side of the Championship contenders.
He, like Dixon, was unlucky to crash on oil in the second race otherwise it would have been three podiums from the three races and although the Yamaha seems to work better at some circuits compared to others, he will almost certainly be a spoiler amongst the leading pack at the final three rounds.
Heroic riding from Iddon
As mentioned above, Iddon arrived at Silverstone still very much in contention for the Showdown but when he crashed in qualifying, breaking his collarbone in three places, his meeting appeared over.
Miraculously, the Tyco BMW rider took his place on the grid for the first race just a few hours later although 15th place looked like he was fighting a losing battle and his bravery would go unrewarded.
Fifth in Sunday’s first race reignited those hopes and although the task ultimately proved too much, he was rightly lauded for the grit and determination shown.
After the debacle of the recent British MotoGP at Silverstone, both the circuit and series organisers may have been apprehensive ahead of the BSB event and their concerns could be seen when they switched the races to the National circuit which had never been used before for such a high-profile meeting.
At just 1.6-miles in length and with a lap of just 54s, it was one of the shortest circuits ever used for a BSB round but it proved to be an inspired decision with some sensational racing, not just in BSB but in the support races too.
Without doubt, the racing was some of the best we’ve seen all year and there’s already talk that the circuit – rather than the 3.6-mile Grand Prix layout – will be used again in the future.
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.