The 2016 British Superbike Championship reached its halfway point after the sixth round at Thruxton at the weekend but perhaps more importantly at this stage of the season, it marked two-thirds completed of the rounds that decide which six riders will make the all-important Showdown.
The Showdown format was introduced after Leon Camier clinched the 2009 title with four races to spare, thus making the final races less of a spectacle. The Showdown is designed to create the opposite and have a thrilling climax.
We’ll look into the ins and outs of how it all works closer to the deciding ninth round but, for now, let’s try and look at who will make it into the all-important top six.
Byrne and Haslam clear favourites
Whilst they haven’t qualified yet mathematically, only a series of mechanical failures or injury will prevent Shane Byrne and Leon Haslam from making it through. The duo, perhaps as expected, have been the class acts of the field so far and not only have they scored the most points this season, hence lying in first and second overall, they’ve also accumulated the most podium credits.
Byrne’s form on the Ducati Panigale R is looking very ominous for the opposition and, as predicted, he’s getting stronger as the year goes on. As for Haslam, Thruxton was the first time where he’s really struggled to adapt to the unique British circuits, which he’s seeing for the first time since 2008, but only a disaster will stop him from making it through.
Can Honda get two riders into the Showdown?
The Honda pairing of Jason O’Halloran and Dan Linfoot surprised many with their pace on the ageing Fireblade at the opening round but they’ve remained at the forefront ever since, hitting top form in the last few rounds especially. Both were unfortunate to miss out twelve months ago due to injury so perhaps it’s only right they make it into the top six this time around. The team have clearly put a lot of work into continually developing the Honda and, at this moment in time, look the team most likely to have two riders in the top six come the ninth round at Oulton in September.
The BMW challenge
When Michael Laverty won the opening race of the BSB season, it was arguably one of the finest rides ever seen from the Northern Irishman. Measured, controlled and faultless, the 35-year looked like he’d laid the foundations for a firm title challenge. But since then, it’s been an uphill battle for the amiable Toomebridge rider.
It took Laverty most of 2015 to get to grips with the BMW and his win at Silverstone continued his strong end of season form from 2015. However, despite picking up points from most races, he’s been anonymous for a lot of the season and his third place at Knockhill was just his second podium of the season. It took analysis of Ian Hutchinson’s TT-winning Superstock bike to help get him back on his way and despite a number of lowly finishes, he’s still very much a Showdown contender.
Laverty’s team-mate Christian Iddon was the revelation of the start of the season and he fully grasped the opportunity he’d been given by the Tyco BMW team. His potential was there for all to see in 2015 and four podiums from the first four races of 2016 sent him to the top of the early Championship table.
However, like Laverty, Iddon then hit a brick wall and having taken 72 points in the first four races, he only managed 32 from the next six.
Ellison – close but no cigar?
It’s been another case of James Ellison being the nearly man in BSB this year – just like previous years, he’s shown flashes of brilliance only to suffer elsewhere with lowly finishes and no scores, the combination of a lack of form and mechanical issues. This year has seen him take three podiums but his next best finish is seventh whilst three no scores have affected him considerably. Thruxton saw him qualify a lowly 23rd, certainly the low points of his season so far.
In previous years, Ellison’s been incredibly unfortunate to suffer injury at the wrong times, wrecking his title ambitions, but this season it’s been more about a lack of consistency. He’s still in contention though and whilst his confidence may have taken a serious hit, he still has seven races to claw himself back into the top six – but he has to bounce back quickly..
It’s perhaps unfair to call Richard Cooper an outsider but, at the beginning of the year, few would have put the Buildbase BMW rider in the top six after the first six rounds. A win at Oulton and then two strong rides at Brands have helped him there but he’s also been consistent, failing to score on just one occasion. Stuart Hicken’s team could be seen as the underdogs within the paddock but they have the ability to mount a title challenge for sure.
The other two contenders, at the moment at least, are Peter Hickman on the third JG Speedfit Kawasaki and Luke Mossey on the similar Quattro Plant ZX-10R. Hickman is enjoying one of his best ever BSB seasons and although he’s yet to replicate the form that saw him win at Silverstone, he hasn’t been a million miles away. Mossey, meanwhile, undoubtedly has the pace but, for a number of reasons – including his own mistakes and a lack of feel in the wet – hasn’t strung it all together yet. Thruxton shows what can happen when he does and he could be the rider who sneaks into the top six at the completion of round nine.
Who do you think will win the BSB showdown? Leave your comments below.
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.