Five months since the curtain came down on the 2016 British Superbike Championship, the new season is thankfully now upon us and bursts back into life this weekend at Donington Park – and everything’s in place to suggest it’s going to be another fiercely contested series.
A slightly reduced field of 25 full time riders has been assembled for 2017 but it’s packed to the rafters with talent and, just like previous seasons, scoring points will be no easy task – indeed, we can expect some big names to miss out at each round.
Byrne v Haslam again?
Last season saw a year-long battle between Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne and Leon Haslam which ultimately went the way of Byrne at the final round and with the duo continuing on Ducati and Kawasaki machinery respectively, few would bet against them serving up a repeat performance this time around.
Byrne lines up once more for Paul Bird’s Be Wiser team and although, like last year, he hasn’t been as busy as others in the pre-season tests, one would expect him to hit the ground running and be fighting it out for the wins from the outset.
Haslam, on the other hand, has been very busy with the JG Speedfit Kawasaki team, consistently running in the top three at all of the tests, and although he’s now with Pete Extance’s team as opposed to the departed Mark Smith-Halvorsen’s, he now knows the ZX-10R inside out. The undoubted class acts of the field, could the 2017 title ultimately be fought out between these two once more?
Let’s hope not – and there are plenty of riders more than capable of proving this argument none more so than 2014 World Superbike Champion Sylvain Guintoli. It was way back in 2009 when the Frenchman had his solitary season in BSB and, a race winner then, early reports suggest he’ll be doing the same in 2017. Of course, a lot will depend on the competitiveness and durability of the new Suzuki but the Hawk Racing team know a thing or two about producing race-winning bikes.
Yamaha step up their effort:
Two more potential race, and Championship, winners line up at the new McAMS Yamaha team in the shape of James Ellison and Michael Laverty. Keith Flint’s team have previously enjoyed success in the Supersport division and have full Yamaha support for their first attempt in the Superbike class so all the ingredients are in place.
The duo are proven race winners but need to improve their consistency over the entire 12 rounds and 26 races if they’re to firmly challenge for the title.
And what about the returning Josh Brookes? The former Champion is back with Yamaha, the bike he rode to title glory in 2015, and whilst he’s more than capable of taking title number two, his Anvil Hire TAG team will need to step up to the plate and be counted if the Aussie is to take another crown.
As well as Guintoli and Brookes, there’s further overseas representation with John Hopkins, Davide Giugliano and Jason O’Halloran. American Hopkins knows the UK tracks inside out now and has proven his pace on the Ducati in the past but he’s also been hit by reliability issues, something his Moto Rapido team will be desperate to eradicate in order to prove themselves as bona fide title contenders.
Giugliano, meanwhile, is, arguably, the highest profile debutante in 2017 and he could well have a similar season in BSB to his recent efforts on the World stage – fast and on the podium one weekend, down the order or in the dirt the next! O’Halloran was one of the stars of 2016, deservedly taking his first win and making it through to the Showdown. If the new Honda Fireblade is fast straightaway, expect more of the same from the likeable Aussie.
As expected, there’s plenty of home grown talent looking to put the overseas riders in their place and with Luke Mossey (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) and Dan Linfoot (Honda Racing) having made the Showdown in 2016, there’ll be coming into the new season determined to challenge for race wins straightaway.
Glenn Irwin comes into his second BSB season with the PBM Ducati and proved his pace last year with two podiums whilst Christian Iddon, the early pacesetter in 2016, will be looking to maintain his form throughout – if he can do that, he’ll again be a dark horse for honours.
Previous race winners Peter Hickman and Tommy Bridewell are back for more whilst Jake Dixon, Taylor Mackenzie and Lee Jackson will also be looking to make an impression, something they’re all more than capable of.
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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.