Five rounds into the British Superbike Championship, reigning champion Tarran Mackenzie finally got back to winning ways at the weekend with two victories at Brands Hatch. With superb weather, a bumper crowd witnessed three exciting races and the eight Showdown places are getting ever closer to being finalised despite their being three rounds to go before the cut-off.
The Champ returns
Not getting a race win until round five certainly wasn’t in the script for Mackenzie but the injuries in January and then again in April have meant it’s taken until mid-season for him to get back to full fitness. But it was clear at Brands that all the problems are now behind him with three superb rides.
True, Brands is one of his happy hunting grounds – as seen by the three victories that saw him clinch the title in October last year – but he’s only done half the races his rivals have so it was impressive stuff. The track time gained at the World Superbike Championship round at Donington Park the weekend before, albeit on a different-spec R1 Yamaha, will certainly have helped and his riding on Sunday was exemplary.
Despite missing the first six races, and riding far from fit at the next six, the haul of 70 points elevated the McAMS Yamaha rider from 15th to eighth in the standings which puts him in the final Showdown position. And with three more rounds to go before the business end of the season comes around, he still has every chance of defending his crown.
For the first time in their history, the Blackpool-based McAMS Yamaha team finished 1-2 in every race with Jason O’Halloran winning the first race ahead of Mackenzie and then following his team-mate home in the next two.
After Saturday, when O’Halloran took pole and the Sprint race victory, the smart money was on the Australian serving up a repeat performance but it wasn’t to be although the last race saw the pair separated by just 0.037s at the chequered flag. Nevertheless, with nine podiums in the last nine races, which includes five wins and four seconds, he’s very much in the ascendancy.
For the first time in the season, he leads the championship after overhauling Bradley Ray at the weekend and he now has more podium credits than anyone else. There’s still a long way to go but the Yamahas are looking tough nuts to crack although he’ll now be very wary of the threat of Mackenzie.
For Ray and team-mate Kyle Ryde, and in particular the Rich Energy OMG Racing Yamaha team, the days leading up to Brands were turbulent to say the least with Rich Energy CEO William Storey declaring on social media the partnership was over.
The team counteracted with a statement their arrangement is with a different branch of Rich Energy but it’s all got a bit messy and no doubt has more miles to run. It couldn’t have helped the two riders in their preparation and for the first time this season, Ray failed to finish on the podium taking three fourths instead.
He was close in each race but acknowledged that the rival McAMS Yamaha team have the upper hand at the moment and work needs to be done if they’re to bridge the gap. Ray, especially, and Ryde, both look comfortable in making the Showdown but we’ll have to wait and see how the sponsorship wrangles pan out.
Dip in form for Kawasaki
The OMG Racing team weren’t the only ones to suffer a dip in fortunes with the Cheshire Mouldings FS-3 Kawasaki pairing of Lee Jackson and Rory Skinner also slightly off the pace compared to previous rounds.
Neither rider got anywhere near the podium at the weekend with Skinner taking a best finish of sixth compared to Jackson’s ninth, the latter having his first DNF of the season when he had a rare crash in race two. Front end issues were the cause of Jackson’s lowly performances along with the hot temperatures, Skinner also suffering with a lack of grip in the warm conditions.
The young Scot had also had arm pump surgery in the five-week gap since Knockhill whilst he also has an outing in the Moto2 World Championship race at Silverstone on the horizon. Neither were given as excuses but he recognised he’d been on the back foot all weekend.
Nevertheless, both riders remain in their respective third and fourth place positions in the standings and as Jackson rightly pointed out it was their first tough weekend of 2022. Like Ray and Ryde, they look assured of making it into the Showdown but will be hoping to get back to the sharp end next time out.
Bridewell keeps Ducati in the frame
With the PBM Ducati team continuing to flounder (see below), Tommy Bridewell continues to fly the flag valiantly for the Italian manufacturer with two podiums at Brands on his Oxford Products machine.
The Wiltshire rider, like Mackenzie, always goes well at the Kent venue and two close third place finishes in the first two races more than proved that. They were his first podiums since round two at Oulton but consistent scoring – he’s finished in the top five in the last five races – mean he’s looking good for yet another Showdown appearance.
Once again, the Yamahas look to have the edge over him and he needs to finish on the podium more regularly if he’s to have a chance come the Showdown but he’s doing his utmost to do just that. Some set-up assistance from the WSB Ducati team has come his way recently and, one of the most popular riders on the grid, he may need a little bit more of that if he’s to get back onto the top step of the podium.
Podium return for Irwin
Glenn Irwin’s wait for a podium finish has been longer than Bridewell’s, with the Honda rider not spraying the champagne since the opening round over Easter at Silverstone when he took a stunning treble.
Indeed, he’d only managed two top six places since then and if you took out those 75 points from his tally, he may well be outside the top eight. As it is, he’s looking good for the Showdown once more and although the first two races at Brands were difficult, crashing in race one and then being pushed back to 27th on the first lap of the second, the latter was actually a very strong ride.
Coming through the pack to tenth was impressive and he utilised what he’d learnt then in the final race and led for two thirds of the race distance, no mean feat given the way the Yamahas were flying and the Hondas struggle at the venue in recent times.
Third was the ultimate outcome and although the Fireblade still finds the going tough at undulating circuits like Brands, it may well prove to be a significant result. The next round at Thruxton has no such undulations so the Northern Irishman will look to make the most of the opportunities presented.
PBM woes continue
There were no celebrations in the PBM Ducati garage at the weekend with the most successful team in the history of the BSB series again a shadow of their former selves.
2015 and 2020 champion Josh Brookes fought valiantly for sixth in the first race, only three seconds off the podium but then suffered not one but two crashes on Sunday. The Australian rarely crashes so it was a surprise to say the least and although he briefly occupied eighth place in the championship, results mean he’s now back in 11th.
Mackenzie’s return to form means he faces an uphill to make it into the Showdown so he’ll need a major upturn in fortunes at the next three rounds if that’s to become a reality. He at least has a chance as team-mate Tom Sykes will almost certainly fail to make it with eighth and 13th taken at Brands.
He continues to suffer with a lack of grip when on the throttle exiting corners, perhaps due to the lack of electronics he’s been used to in more than a decade in the World Superbike Championship, and 58 points from 15 races is a far cry from what was expected at the beginning of the season.
Up against it
BMW are also up against it at present with all their major players, Danny Buchan and Andrew Irwin (both Synetiq BMW) and Peter Hickman and Ryan Vickers (FHO Racing) struggling.
Buchan and Hickman probably have the best chance of making it into the Showdown but, again, the top eight have a significant points gap to them. Buchan had a weekend to forget with just four points scored and although Hickman fared better, with a best finish of eighth, they won’t need reminding of how big the task in front of them is.
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