After all the build-up and hype regarding new teams, new riders and new bikes, the 2017 British Superbike Championship finally got underway at Donington Park. And whilst we were ultimately deprived another Leon Haslam versus Shane Byrne weekend, the two races delivered a number of talking points. So, what did we learn?
Haslam throws down the gauntlet:
Haslam’s cause at Donington was undoubtedly aided by the absence of Byrne, a double winner at the venue in 2016, but the JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider dominated proceedings. Whilst the Leicestershire circuit doesn’t tend to lend itself to close racing, Haslam never seriously looked like he’d get beaten.
True, he had to see off challenges from the Yamahas of James Ellison and Josh Brookes and it was his home circuit but it looked like he had everything under control from the outset. The now 33-year old will have learned a lot in 2016 and he’s already laid a marker down that he’s the man to beat this year.
Showdown rules to help Byrne’s cause:
A lack of testing, compared to his rivals at least, meant that Byrne arrived at Donington on the back foot somewhat. His cause wasn’t helped by a technical problem on Friday and then inclement weather on Saturday but a crash in Sunday morning warm-up ruled him out of both races.
That means he’s already 50 points and ten podium credits behind Haslam, a gap he’ll be keen to close as soon as possible. But having been a critic of the Showdown format in the past, he’s now grateful for it and it looks like the BSB rules will be to his benefit in 2017.
Brookes’ positive return:
Eyebrows were raised when 2015 Champion Brookes signed for the unfancied Anvil Hire TAG Yamaha team, a team whose best finish in 2016 was 13th. If truth be told, there weren’t many other seats available but in just one round the team have more than suggested their ambitions for the season match those of Brookes. A podium first time out was no mean feat for either rider or team and everyone will be hoping the combination can maintain a year-long challenge.
Irwin a dark horse for 2017:
Byrne may have been missing from the action but his Be Wiser Ducati team-mate Glenn Irwin most certainly wasn’t and he was, arguably, the surprise package of the weekend. The Ulsterman took two podiums in his debut year in 2016 and expectations for 2017 are a lot higher and for those results to be produced more often in 2017. If Donington is anything to go by though, he’ll be doing just that.
He stormed through the field in both races and if it hadn’t have been for a bit of hesitancy in the opening race he could well have left with two rostrum finishes to his name. The challenge now will be to produce these kinds of results week in and week out to prove he’s the real deal. Only time will tell if he is but he’s put himself in the ‘dark horse’ category for the season ahead.
Work to do for Suzuki and Honda:
The threats from Suzuki and Honda, as expected, failed to carry much force at Donington with the new machines clearly still in the early throws of development. Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli crashed out from the first race before claiming seventh in the second and whilst power clearly isn’t an issue with the Bennetts Suzuki, the former World Superbike Champion stated they need to make it more usable.
The Honda pairing of Jason O’Halloran and Dan Linfoot, both Showdown contenders last year, fared even worse, with a best finish of tenth between them. Parts for the new Fireblade have been slow to come through and like their World Superbike counterparts of Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl, they were down the field and a long way adrift of the leading pack.
The good news is that as the parts arrive, and development quickens, there’ll only get stronger and, again, the Showdown format, should work in their favour.
Shock for Giugliano:
Along with Guintoli, Italian rider Davide Giugliano was the marquee signing in BSB over the winter months but whilst team-mate Christian Iddon excelled, the Italian flattered to deceive on the Tyco BMW. With Donington being one of the circuits he already knows, he would have expected far better results than the ninth and 13th he achieved and if were any doubt as to the strength of BSB he certainly knows now.
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.