The 2018 British Superbike Championship reached its half way point at Brands Hatch last weekend and whilst Leon Haslam continues to enjoy a healthy lead, both in overall points and podium credits, it now looks set to be a four-horse race until the end of the season.
The JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider isn’t enjoying the dominance he had earlier in the season with the chasing pack having closed right in and although early season pace setter Bradley Ray has dropped back, Jake Dixon, Glenn Irwin and Josh Brookes are now taking to the challenge to the Derbyshire rider.
Haslam in control?
Haslam may have been disappointed with his two third place finishes at Brands Hatch but the truth is, it’s a circuit that hasn’t been totally kind to him since he returned to BSB in 2016 and you have to go back to 2007 to find when he last won on the GP circuit.
The fact of the matter is that, with reigning champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne out injured, he’s still the man to beat and, ultimately, the title is his to lose. He’s already won 50% of the races to be held so far and whilst his 80-point lead in the standings doesn’t count for anything at this stage, his tally of 38 podium credits does. That’s easily more than double of any other rider and with some of his favourite circuits still to come he’s still very much in the driving seat.
Brookes steps up
After an extremely sluggish start to the season, former Champion Brookes is now showing the kind of form on the McAMS Yamaha that everyone expected at the start of the year.
The Australian put in two dominant rides on the R1 Yamaha at Brands Hatch, ironically upon the 25th anniversary of the machine, and whilst the bike clearly works better at some tracks than others – as can be said for all of the manufacturers – he’s now put himself right back in contention. And with the next round being held at Thruxton, another circuit he’s always excelled upon, he’ll be looking to stay on the rostrum for the foreseeable future.
Irwin revels in team leader status
When Byrne suffered serious injuries in a testing crash at Snetterton almost two months ago, many would have been forgiven for thinking the Be Wiser Ducati team’s chances for 2018 had disappeared. Team-mate Glenn Irwin had shown plenty of promise without truly delivering but that has now all changed.
Since taking a double victory at the North West 200, the 28-year old’s confidence has hit new heights and he’s now a consistent front runner at BSB as seen with podiums at both Snetterton and Brands Hatch. The latter saw him claim his maiden qualifying pole position and his first BSB double podium to move up to third place overall and he’s clearly revelling in his new status as team leader.
Ever since he first stepped on a Superbike, much has been expected of Dixon and he more than showed his potential in 2017 when he made it into one of the six Showdown positions. His challenge ultimately ran out of steam but, continuing with the RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki team for this season, he’s delivering consistent performances week in week out.
A run of six successive podiums may have come to an end at Brands Hatch but he accepted two fourth place finishes were the best he could take on the day which clearly demonstrates his new levels of maturity. At just 22 years of age, Dixon is one of the youngest riders in the field but, second overall at present, he’s given all the indications that he’ll be contesting the title all year long.
No Ray of light
When Bradley Ray took the double race win at the opening round at Donington Park in April, great things were immediately predicted for the Kent rider. But that meeting must seem an awfully long time ago for both him and the Buildbase Suzuki team as he’s run into an awful run of form.
Almost 50% of his total points came at that first round and Brands Hatch saw him manage a best finish of just 13th place. He needs to regroup and get back to basics – and fast – if he’s to even make it into the Showdown come September.
The second year of the new Honda Fireblade was expected to see a marked improvement in performance but after six rounds and 12 races, the Honda Racing duo of Dan Linfoot and Jason O’Halloran have just three podiums between them.
Both riders have been hit hard by injuries, just when they looked set to challenge for the race wins, and both now find themselves languishing down the table. It will take a miracle for either of them to make the Showdown now so there’ll simply want to get back to full fitness as soon as possible and get back to the sharp end of the leaderboard.
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.