Well, the long wait is over. After the long winter months, the British Superbike Championship got underway at Silverstone at the weekend and its fair to say it didn’t disappoint.
There’s always talk about it being ‘the closest ever year’ or the ‘strength in depth has never been greater’ but if the first round is anything to go by, then both statements will be proved.
2016 – Hickman’s year?
Coming into the round, most pundits had outlined three main Championship favourites – Shane Byrne, Leon Haslam and John Hopkins – with the likes of Michael Laverty and James Ellison their likeliest challengers. It’s doubtful that many would have earmarked Peter Hickman to win one of the opening races of the season.
But whilst Haslam took pole position, it was his JG Speedfit Kawasaki team-mate that came away from round one with the plaudits. Hickman’s win in race two was exemplary and if it hadn’t been for a technical issue in the first outing, he could well have walked away with the double.
With all the attention on Haslam and Ellison, Hickman has been able to sneak under the radar and it was without doubt his finest ever BSB performance. And with the 28-year old spearheading the team’s efforts on the roads, 2016 could be a very special year for Hickman.
Byrne looks ominous:
For Byrne, he may not have won a race but it was an ideal start to the season and with two podiums, he’s taken an early lead in the Championship. The Ducati looked to be slightly down on top speed but with the next circuits set to favour the Italian machine, it could well be ominous for the rest of the field.
There’s been a lot of changes in Byrne’s garage, not just with the machine but with personnel too, and there’s a lot to learn and a lot to improve. Byrne admitted the task in 2016 is considerable and they were perhaps trying to run before they could walk but if he can take a brace of second places when they’re not fully up to speed with everything, it’s a significant warning to the opposition.
As a four-time champion, he’s the benchmark for the rest of the field and everyone knows both he, the bike and the team are only going to get stronger. The opposition will have to match them all the way.
Strong start for Tyco BMW:
Before Silverstone, Tyco BMW looked to have one of the strongest teams, on paper at least, and the two races confirmed that they look like they have everything in place to push for the title.
Laverty’s started the year the way he finished 2015 and his first race win was the perfect display of controlled, measured and confident riding. He led from the word go and although his lead was never more than half a second, he never really looked like he would lose. Race two could have followed a similar pattern had he not mistaken water on his visor to be rain as opposed to a small radiator leak.
We’d identified Christian Iddon to be a dark horse in 2016 and at Silverstone he delivered what we all thought he was capable of – rostrum finishes. Running at the front throughout, the Derbyshire rider is ready to be there all year and now he’s taken his first rostrum, he’ll be pushing for that first win.
Work to do:
Haslam, meanwhile, only registered a solitary fifth place after also encountering technical problems in race one so it wasn’t the first round display he was hoping for. With two races under his belt, if he didn’t know before just how difficult BSB will be, he does now. But the pace was there from the outset and if hadn’t been for the DNF, he would have taken a decent points haul.
Ellison won the first round 12 months ago but he had a weekend to forget. A crash in the early stages of qualifying put him on the back foot – and the back row – and he never really recovered, only salvaging eighth and 13th from the two races. Being overshadowed and upstaged by Hickman wasn’t in the script but, as the saying goes, there’s a long way to go and those 11 points could prove invaluable.
Tommy Hill’s THM epayMe Yamaha team also had a difficult weekend with Hopkins taking ninth in race one before retiring in race two. And team-mate Stuart Easton didn’t have it so easy, qualifying on the back row and pulling in from both races.
As most sportsmen know, being successful on the pitch (or track in this case) doesn’t always translate to success off it. But Hill and his team will be doing all they can to ensure there’s a winning formula within the garage sooner rather than later.
Where you impressed by round one? Which racers stood out for you?
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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.