BSB shaping up
This year's British Superbike Championship is shaping up to be the most exciting for many years. James Booth gives us a flavour of round eight of the season at Brands Hatch.
By James Booth. Last Updated: 08/08/11 4:53pm
This year's British Superbike (BSB) championship is widely regarded as the most exciting for many years. The addition of ex MotoGP star John Hopkins to the grid and the return of former champion Shane Byrne have injected something special to the tournament and raised the bar for the existing core contenders, popular regulars including Tommy Hill, Michael Rutter and current champion Ryuichi Kiyonari.
But as with any outdoor sport, the lovely summer weather has a habit of getting in the way: Round Seven at the Cheshire-based circuit of Oulton Park in July was a good example, with heavy rain cutting the day short to a single race rather than the usual two and forcing the year's first triple-header (three races over two days) at the famous Brands Hatch GP circuit in Kent for Round Eight. And it was always going to be exciting: the August meet is consistently one of the most popular on the calendar, this year made more so by the addition of two World Superbike wildcard riders from Kawasaki, Broc Parkes and Joan Lascorz. With an extra race to play with, on what would normally be Qualifying Saturday, the teams had the chance to set up their riders and bikes and go out to claim as many of those much-needed points in the hope of securing a final-six place for the Showdown, when the top six riders have their points effectively reset, podium credits are added and over the remaining three rounds a winner emerges. Introduced for 2010, this new format pretty much guarantees that BSB ends as a cliff-hanger.
And once again the rain came to play. Saturday's 'Oulton Park' Race 2 (Brands Hatch Race 1) illustrated the importance tyre choice can play to a rider's position. Despite qualifying on the front row, the likes of Hill and Byrne suffered initially with poor tyre choice opening up a well-fought first 2011 win for Relentless Suzuki's Josh Brookes, beating Rapid Solicitor Ducati's Rutter and MSS Colchester Kawasaki's Gary Mason into second and third respectively. Rutter has a habit of shining in the rain but Mason's recent form, much improved on the new 2011 bike, has shown that he too is a master of wet conditions. With both riders sitting just outside the top six group podium positions, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Controversy is never far from premier-league racing. The current BSB rules stipulate that a grid position for a subsequent race is achieved through a fast-lap selection process during the previous race. Saturday's drying conditions provided those who had initially selected tyres poorly (notably those on full wets) to come into the pits, change to a soft compound slick set and rejoin the race to put in lap times that were considerably quicker than the race pace of those riders still racing on the intermediate tyres selected from the beginning. The result of this was a grid line-up for the second race of the weekend that was anything but representative of how race one had actually run.
Racewinner Brookes, having shared his frustrations through Twitter the previous evening and in doing so causing some chatter in the paddock, had this to say after starting the second race on the fourth row of the grid:
"It was great that I came from 14th on the grid (to 6th) but we didn't benefit from winning the first race for a position in race 2; a lot of people were able to swap over to slicks to get better lap times so that put me back on the 4th row which was disappointing..."
With the rain mostly holding off, the second and third races ran to form with everyone back on slicks and the pace hotting up. Brit favourite Shakey Byrne jostled almost constantly with local hero Hill; this was racing at its most exciting - at times it seemed the two riders might come to blows. But Byrne made his mark crossing the line half a second ahead and reinforcing his championship lead ahead of the weekend decider.
Brands Hatch is Hill's local circuit and the crowd love him. And so it was fitting that he should storm to a convincing win in the final race of the day, bringing his Swan Yamaha R1 home some four and a bit seconds ahead of Hopkins riding the Samsung Crescent Racing Suzuki.
For the riders at the very top of the table, their place is now secured for the final Showdown but for the others, anything is possible. We won't know until after the final deciding round at Cadwell Park, which takes place over August bank holiday weekend; what we do know is that this year's BSB is shaping up for a truly thrilling finale and is not one to be missed.