IT ALL STARTS NOW... THE RACE TO BE 2021 BENNETTS BRITISH SUPERBIKE CHAMPION BEGINS THIS WEEKEND
It's going to be something special, make no mistake; the final three rounds of the season are upon us, and the tension is building. Nine races across Oulton Park, Donington Park and Brands Hatch, nine opportunities for the chasing riders to secure valuable points and close the gap on title leader, McAMS Yamaha's Jason O'Halloran. The three circuits each have their own characteristics, and each rider has their favourite amongst them; some of those riders are strong at all three, and that, dear reader, will be the key to the championship. Three rounds in four weekends will decide where the title goes - the smart money is on O'Halloran, but it's Bennetts British Superbikes, where anything can happen in the next nine races.
English Scotsman, Tarran Mackenzie, will be a huge threat to the title favourite and McAMS Yamaha teammate, O'Halloran. With multiple successes at his local Donington Park circuit over the past three visits and finally getting strong top six finishes at Oulton Park back at the opening round in Cheshire, Mackenzie will really fancy his chances against the Aussie. A DNF, a win and runner-up at Silverstone, a record matched by O'Halloran meant Mackenzie missed the opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table but make no mistake, with O'Halloran imperious around Oulton Park this season Taz will need his best-ever results at Oulton Park if he doesn't want to leave himself needing snookers in the title chase come Sunday evening.
O'Halloran himself has a 30-point cushion over his stable-mate and should the Wollongong Wizard match his hat-trick of wins on the opening weekend then the title chase will become a mountain to climb rather than the hill it currently is. Last year's title runner-up has put together almost the perfect season so far with just two DNF's to his name, one of which was pilot error at Knockhill while the other was being caught up in his teammate's crash in Race 1 at Silverstone, thankfully escaping significant injury. With 11 wins, 4 second-place finishes and 4 thirds, O'Halloran is in pole position to secure his, and McAMS Yamaha's, first British Superbike title and it's likely no one will take a bet against that.
Ducati have come on strong in the latter half of the regular season in the hands of Oxford Products Tommy Bridewell and Vision Track PBM's reigning BSB Champion, Josh Brookes. Bridewell has been almost a constant podium visitor since his win in Race 3 at Donington Park, a run of results that elevated him to third in the standings at the close of the regular season. Such is the nature of the Showdown phase, the Wiltshire man drops to 4th overall, 2 points behind early season contender, Christian Iddon. Bridewell's run of eight consecutive podiums ended after Race 2 at Silverston but has set him up perfectly to wrestle third place back from Iddon as the series heads to three strong tracks for the former R6 Cup man. Coincidentally, both riders need to win all three races at Oulton Park to stand any chance of realistically overhauling the O'Show...
PBM duo Josh Brookes and Christian Iddon could not have had two more contrasting second halves of the regular season; Brookes finally finding his mojo after recording the worst start to a BSB season to date while Iddon scored just one podium over the last five rounds and, crucially, five DNFs. Brookes outpointed the majority of the Showdown hopefuls over the last three rounds to secure his place in the final eight at the last possible opportunity by taking his first podium finishes of 2021 at Silverstone. It is highly unlikely that Brookes will retain his championship this year, that's almost a given at 69 points adrift, but what he most certainly can do is spoil other people's hopes and dreams, which could also aid his teammate's quest to retrieve lost points on the leading two.
As the table stands going into Oulton Park, there are 30 points between O'Halloran and Mackenzie, who leads Iddon and Bridewell by 15 and 17 respectively. Beyond that, Hickman, Buchan and Irwin G., will find it difficult to break the consistency of the Yamaha and the Ducati, despite the Honda being traditionally strong at Donington Park. For Hickman, it's improbable rather than impossible to lift the 2021 crown in FHO Racing's first season; despite the results having not been as consistent as Hicky would have liked, there have been real positives across the season to take into 2022. In the same breath it's the same scenario for Glenn Irwin at Honda as his shoulder injury hampered his progress through the latter half of the championship, whereas for Buchan a slight dip in form and five races on the side-lines curtailed any progress into the top four of the title race.
Form is paramount in the Showdown phase as the pressure ramps up once again and as points finally make prizes. O'Halloran was strong in the final three races of 2020, run as a regular season, with only a 14th and 8th at Donington Park harming his title chances, as Brookes took full advantage of his fellow Aussie's misfortune. There are undoubtedly other riders that can play their part as spoilers in the championship chase in the shape of Brad Ray, Lee Jackson, and Ryan Vickers, but whether or not they can be close enough to O'Halloran, Mackenzie, Iddon and Bridewell to make a difference will only be a part of the story of the final three rounds. And again, Josh Brookes is in his best form of the season and will be keen to make his mark; he will not relinquish his crown without a fight.
A hat-trick of wins for Jason O'Halloran on the opening weekend set the tone for his season with Christian Iddon riding shotgun for a hat-trick of second places with Bridewell twice and Hickman once sharing the last step of the podium with the dominant pair. Mackenzie rode his Yamaha R1 around the leafy, undulating rollercoaster of a circuit the best he ever has but it wasn't enough to score precious podium credits so expect the pressure to be on for him to perform at arguably his weakest circuit. Also, what of next year for Mackenzie? Rumours are rife that a move to WorldSBK is on the cards, so will that prove a distraction? Likely not.
There hasn't really been too much external pressure on the leading pair prior to the final three rounds as the points and credits have been well taken care of, only the pressure they put on themselves has been the story of the season so far. That changes this weekend for everyone. One DNF, one costly run-on, every mistake counts over the next nine races and if that isn't pressure, then we don't know what is.
Two Yamaha teammates fighting for the 2021 title while three Ducatis, two BMWs, and a Honda all try and stop them.
Bring it on!