OUR MAN IN THE FIELD APPLIES THE AFTER-SUN WHILE MUSING OVER TESTING AND GIVES A LITTLE LOOK FORWARDS TO THE SEASON AHEAD AND THE MASS OF SHOWDOWN CONTENDERS!
As my change of skin colour from milky white to bronzed adonis (stop sniggering!) will attest, it was a scorchio day at Donington Park that greeted the runners and riders of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship and a few of its support classes for the fourth and final Official Test of 2021. Superbike, both National and Junior Superstock, Supersport and GP2 plus a smattering of Ducatis from the TriOptions cup were all in attendance to make the best of a day more suited to Daytona than Donington (I couldn't think of a hot track in Europe beginning with 'D'...).
McAMS Yamaha's Jason O'Halloran monstered (see what I did there?) the timesheets to finish the day fastest ahead of his team-mate and Donington specialist, Tarran Mackenzie. The Wollongong Wizard was also fastest at the previous test at Oulton Park so it's safe to say he's dialled in for the season ahead, building on the confidence borne from a strong 2020 campaign. It would take a brave man to bet against O'Halloran mounting another strong charge for the title this year and for team-mate Mackenzie, it's time to shine aboard the factory Yamaha after seasons of unreached potential - he must match the Aussie toe-to-toe if he's to truly make his mark as a BSB contender.
Testing is a funny old game, though. PBM Ducati rider and reigning British Superbike Champion (it's so good to have the #1 plate back in the main championship) Josh Brookes, after injuring his finger during his crash at Silverstone, has certainly not shown his cards yet but you know both he and Christian Iddon will be there when it counts the most. Josh is far too experienced to feel the need to win testing, rather just quietly going about his business the way he always has.
As undisputed lead rider at Honda, Glenn Irwin will be looking to fight back from a disappointing end to 2020 after leading the title charge for much of the season. Finishing the first nine races in the top four, a difficult second half of the truncated season saw the Ulsterman finish in the top four only once in the next nine races with a 2nd place in Race 3 at Donington Park.
FS-3 Kawasaki have rightly kept faith with Lee Jackson for 2021, the Lincolnshire plumber was the model of consistency last season and will be settling for nothing less than the Showdown this season. Jackson's consistency has been rewarded with a new teammate for '21 in the shape of British Supersport Champion, Rory Skinner. The young Scot has been wearing a groove around Knockhill throughout his preparations for the big bike and a creditable top 12 in the final test showed the youngster is more than ready to take his bow in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship.
A rider who really has impressed during testing is our own Kyle Ryde. The RICH Energy OMG Racing man is leaner, fitter, and more comfortable than he's ever been and, of course, a happy rider is a fast rider. Teammate, Brad Ray is a couple of steps behind after his delayed start to testing but you know he'll be up there come the opening round; a lacklustre season in 2020 means Ray has a point to prove. Racing alongside close friend and long-time track rival, Ryde, the duo will undoubtedly spur each other on.
For me, the Showdown will be the hardest-fought for many years as there are more riders than ever with top-six potential. Brookes, Iddon, Bridewell, Irwin G., O'Halloran, Mackenzie, Ryde, Ray, Irwin A., Buchan, Fores and Hickman to name but twelve... yes, TWELVE riders all with a genuine shout of the Showdown. Bonkers! But wait, hold on... what of testing revelation Danny Kent; he's shown serious potential through testing, topping timesheets and posting consistent times. Kent's Buildbase Suzuki teammate, fellow Moto2 exile Gino Rea, is just under the radar but consistently well inside the top ten and finally, (I think!) Ryan Vickers, entering his third season in the top class, the Norfolk man aboard the RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki will be keen to finally reach his potential in the class after learning his trade over the last two seasons.
Do we think anyone is quietly holding back - could they be so bold? Or, does it mean too much to not be as high up the timesheets as they can be... they're racers after all. I don't think so. I think that with the season fast approaching and the clock ticking, everyone needed to see the full potential of their package (oo-er, missus!) in the best conditions we've had all through testing.
Enough, now - let's go RACING!!