Over the past few seasons, the British Superbike Championship has always – to use terminology from the footballing world – prided itself on its ‘marquee signings’. These have helped it confirm its status as the best domestic Championship in the world and have primarily been overseas riders whether coming from the MotoGP or World Superbike paddock.
Since 2009, the likes of Josh Brookes, Sylvain Guintoli, Yukio Kagayama, John Hopkins, Loris Baz, Noriyuki Haga, Luca Scassa, PJ Jacobsen, Jakub Smrz, Josh Waters and Broc Parkes have all been attracted to BSB and the UK circuits, more often than not always riding for the best teams and earmarked as potential Championship winners.
Some have worked out better than others – Brookes, Guintoli, Hopkins and Jacobsen standing out – whilst others have been disappointing for various reasons, Haga and Parkes being two examples, particularly the latter. 2016 has been no exception with a significant marquee signing but it’s different this time around as that rider is British – Leon Haslam.
Expectations are high for Haslam:
You have to go a long way back to see when a British rider last forsake his place on the World stage to come back to BSB, a race winner in a World Championship at least, and it’s now been eight years since the Derbyshire rider last completed a full season in BSB. That was in 2008 when he took second overall for HM Plant Honda, two years after taking the same result for Airwaves Ducati.
Haslam will be back in the UK very much at the top of his game, as opposed to a rider in the twilight of his career, as his 2015 season in WSB showed. Back to full fitness and on a fully competitive factory Aprilia, the now 32-year old took two wins and nine podiums on his way to finishing fifth overall. His title challenge may have petered out as the year wore on but make no mistake, expectations are high coming back in 2016.
Haslam is naturally coming back with one sole aim – to win the Championship – and, arguably, that’s what everyone’s expecting and if he’s not winning races immediately or in the Showdown come season’s end it will be a disaster for Haslam, Kawasaki and the JG Speedfit team. Of course, racing can be a funny old game but he should do that with ease and it’s certainly not a signing that has an element of gambling to it.
Son of Ron, Leon currently has 16 wins and 54 podiums from his BSB career which spanned from 2005 through to 2008, and unlike some of the foreign imports, he won’t be fazed by the UK circuits, particularly the smaller, tighter and twistier ones like Knockhill and Cadwell.
Competition for Haslam:
Of course, Haslam isn’t the only marquee signing and the fact that John Hopkins is back on a full time basis is a terrific boost to the series. The Californian has had his fair shares of ups and downs on these shores and whilst he was a revelation in 2011, only losing out on the title in the last race of the season, he was disappointing and unfit throughout 2014. However, when he joined the series during the middle of 2015 to ride the Moto Rapido Ducati he was immediately on the pace.
Hopper’s days on the World stage may not happen again – not that he sees it that way of course – but he’s still very much a class act and with the all-conquering Yamaha at his disposal he’ll come into the first round at Silverstone in April very much as a title favourite.
Marquee signings certainly help raise the profile of the championship – and having Haslam and Hopkins in the 2016 series make it all the more richer – but, of course, there’s no guarantee of success and they, like everyone else, will have to prove themselves over 12 rounds and 26 races. Only time will tell who comes out on top and which signings proved to be a success and which didn’t.
How do you think the championships will plan out? Do you have high hopes for Haslam? Are you excited for his return? Let us know what you think below…