MOTORSPORT LEAD WRITER DAVE NEAL REVIEWS THE BRITISH SUPERBIKE SEASON AND THE PROSPECTS AHEAD ON THE CIRCUIT
This Wednesday sees the massed ranks of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship convene for the opening test of its landmark 25th season at Silverstone in Northants. It's two days of action at the home of MotoGP for the Bennetts British Superbike contenders with the keenly-contested support classes split over Wednesday and Thursday; that's a huge amount of track action to keep up with across the socials and live timing, supplied by TSL Timing as always. For obvious reasons, the test isn't open to the public so be sure to follow all the news on our socials as well as the official coverage throughout all the pre-season tests.
Testing is a time for teams and riders across all disciplines of motorcycle racing to get the rider and machine into peak form before the season opener. How often have we seen that the fastest man in testing doesn't always equate to a championship challenge? There are fast lap heroes and sandbaggers across the board; some want to keep their powder dry and concentrate on the bike set-up while others love the glory and ego boost of topping the timesheets as that creates headlines and some much-needed coverage.
For the first time since 2012, the number 1 plate will be run in BSB as reigning champion Josh Brookes returns to defend the crown for VisionTrack PBM Ducati as the Cumbrian team retain the services of the Aussie and Christian Iddon for 2021. Iddon was the model of consistency last season, finishing every race in the points and the perfect foil to Brookes. This season Iddon will have both eyes on the big prize and after securing his first championship win last year, the gloves will be off from round one.
Like Iddon, championship runner-up Jason O'Halloran and his MCAMS Yamaha were another perfect match as they too finished every race in the points and an impressive eleven podiums to return a best-ever campaign for the man from Wollongong in New South Wales and undoubtedly there'll be more of the same for 2021. O'Halloran's teammate aboard the sister Yamaha R1, Tarran Mackenzie will be looking to make amends for a difficult season that showed glimpses of what the young Scot is capable, including his maiden victory on the big bike amongst a handful of podiums visits but ultimately didn't return the championship challenge he and the team were hoping for. Expect that to change for this season.
Honda Racing has a changed lineup for 2021 as young Japanese rider Ryo Mizuno joins Glenn Irwin in Louth as part of the Honda Superbike Challenge along with Takumi Takahashi, who most recently raced for HRC in the World Superbike Championship and is a triple Suzuka 8hr winner. Irwin had his strongest start to a championship season across the opening three rounds in 2020 but two DNFs and a tough final round meant his championship charge fell away despite a return of seven podiums and one visit to the top step.
A win at the opening round at Donington Park thrust Oxford Products Ducati man Tommy Bridewell into the championship battle for a second successive season and a triple podium visit at Snetterton did nothing to end that charge however the Devizes man couldn't sustain the run and fell away as the season unfolded, never quite regaining the form of the opening rounds. For 2021 it's as you were once again for Moto Rapido Racing and Bridewell as they embark on their third full season together.
The Kawasaki torch was carried by FS-3 Racing in the shape of Danny Buchan and Lee Jackson last season and it's the Lincolnshire man that returns for '21 alongside reigning British Supersport Champion Rory Skinner who embarks on his rookie season in the domestic blue-ribbon class. Just one DNF last season and a deserved podium at Oulton Park saw Jackson end the season as leading Kawasaki and returning his best-ever finish of eighth in Bennetts British Superbike Championship.
Suzuki's hopes of success are once again firmly in the hands of Hawk Racing as Gino Rea leads the charge for the Mallory Park squad who this season is backed up by former 125cc Grand Prix World Champion, Danny Kent. After a season battling with the seasoned regulars in STK1000, Kent makes the switch to a superbike and will be keen to make his mark as soon as possible.
What of our own Rich Energy OMG Racing squad? A double rider change for 2021 sees two of the hottest young prospects don the black and gold as BSB race winners Brad Ray and Kyle Ryde join the team aboard the new BMW M1000RR. It was a difficult season for Ray who struggled to find form and consistency across the year, two fifth places the highlights of a season to forget for the Kent man. In contrast to Ray, Kyle Ryde seized his opportunities when they came his way culminating in a stunning double race win and the 'gentleman's set' of pole position and fastest lap for the second win at Silverstone.
Across the Irish Sea Synetiq BMW also have a brand new rider lineup for this season as Ulsterman Andy Irwin and Essex man join from Honda Racing and FS-3 respectively. Irwin joins after a troubled season at Honda where a championship challenge was restricted by penalties and a struggle to return to the form of the opening round where two wins signaled his intent for the year. One more win on the return to Donington in October was the highlight for Irwin who will be looking for a consistent season to showcase his talent. Buchan will be another feeling he has something to prove this season after lacklustre season; there's no question the former STK1000 champion has the pace he just needs the consistency to back that pace up.
The third BMW team is the newly-formed FHO Racing BMW who has the experienced duo of Peter Hickman and Xavi Fores completing their superbike line-up for their maiden campaign. Hickman will be keen to improve on '20 whereas Fores will be looking at unfinished business after his '19 season with Honda in BSB. An addition to the FHO squad is Brian McCormack, the Irish roads specialist who will campaign a sister BMW to the superbike pair for the 2020 season.
Former British Supersport contender Brad Jones joins Joe Francis at PR Racing BMW and Ryan Vickers continues with Lee Hardy's RAF Regular and Reserves Kawasaki. Josh Owens continues his learning curve with Rapid CDH Racing and new kids on the block, Powerslide/Catfoss Racing will field effervescent South African Bjorn Estment for their debut season after a successful trial run at Brands Hatch at the end of last season.
Storm Stacey will continue his superbike schooling with Brent Galdwin's Team LKQ Euro Car Parts Kawasaki as the youngster builds on his experiences from last season. Silicone Racing return with Dean Harrison after not contesting last season and Harrison running his own machine in STK1000 to stay sharp. NP Motorcycles will run series rookie Joey Thompson and after spending the majority of the season on the sidelines, it's a change of manufacturer to Honda and a welcome return for TAG Racing and Dan Linfoot. The Yorkshireman will be keen to get back to action and put the difficulties of the past season behind him.