ACTION RETURNS TO BRANDS HATCH, THE HOME OF THE BENNETTS BRITISH SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS WEEKEND AND THE ACTION IS SURE TO BE LIKE THE RECENT WEATHER - RED-HOT!
As has now become traditional, a must, the done thing, an ‘if you don’t announce it is it even happening?’ situation, yes, you know what’s coming…. It’s RACE WEEK! Good, now we’ve got that out of the way let’s get down to business. Round 3 of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship rolls into its own backyard this weekend as the legendary Brands Hatch throws open its gates to the action-starved masses for the Monster Energy King of Brands weekend. As restrictions lift across England it will be fantastic to see the banking full around the circuit at last as fans get to see their heroes on track, in person, for the first time since 2019.
What of the on-track action, though, what is going to happen on that hallowed asphalt? As usual, it’s a bit of a lottery, however, you would expect Messrs. Iddon, O’Halloran, and Mackenzie, to be up at the sharp end after their exploits across the opening six races. Danny Buchan, now third in the standings, will be looking to ride the crest of the Scottish wave as he returns to action in front of his native home crowd after taking the double in front of his ancestral home crowd last time out at Knockhill. Podium debutant Rory Skinner could be on the backfoot for this round after undergoing surgery to ease arm-pump after his exceptional performance around his home track as he looks to continue the upward trajectory of his debut Superbike season. The young Scot was exceptional at the home of Scottish motorsport, a performance that didn't come as a particularly major surprise to those following his career closely over the past few years.
At the final round of 2020, it was all to play for at the top of the BSB standings, Josh Brookes sat proudly at the top, but nothing was guaranteed as he, Iddon, and O’Halloran entered the weekend. An uncharacteristic 4th in race one set eyes and ears alight as O’Halloran took the opening race from Iddon – an unwitting precursor to the 2021 season – as Mackenzie rode shotgun as best he could. Sunday was Brookes-day as the Aussie asserted his authority on the championship, taking victory in both races and with them his second BSB title ahead of the McAMS man and PBM teammate, Iddon.
The McAMS Yamaha pair brought home five podiums from the six races back in October and the fastest laps in all three races around the GP layout, which undoubtedly bodes well for the weekend’s shenanigans. So far this season it’s been O’Halloran flying the blue flag for the team but Mackenzie has had his best start to a BSB season yet which bodes well for the English Scotsman with his favoured tracks yet to come. O’Halloran engaged damage limitation mode at Knockhill to protect his championship tally at what was traditionally his most barren of circuits. A smart 2nd place threw the monkey off the Market Rasen man’s back before set-up changes and poor grid positions along with a rare crash in race two prevented any further podium fight, heading away from the circuit second in the standings.
So, what of Josh Brookes this season? Well, we are yet to see the reigning champion put up a defence of his crown in the opening six races, returning a best result of 6th in race three at Oulton Park before a tough Knockhill saw the two-time BSB champion finish twice outside the top ten, battling with riders he usually only sees in practice sessions. Not traditionally a strong starter to the season, even these results must be cause for concern in the Brookes camp but where better to turn his season around than Brands Hatch. Equalling Shane Byrne’s win record of nineteen in the final race of 2020 was a fitting end to the season and a continuation of his dominance in the Garden of England. Twenty-six podiums in total and ten wins in the last fourteen visits put Brookes and Brands in a league of their own, however, with the disappointing start to the season he’s had, will the Bringelly Bullet be able to engineer a change of fortune at the circuit he’s made his own? Time will tell.
In contrast to Brookes, Christian Iddon is in the ascendency at VisionTrack PBM Ducati, the Derbyshire ace is the model of consistency across the opening six races of 2021, finishing in the top four in every race so far with three second-place finishes at Oulton Park and scoring his maiden victory of ’21 in Race 1 at Knockhill. While races two and three weren’t of the standard he’d set himself, issues befalling nearest rival O’Halloran meant Iddon left Scotland with the championship lead and continues his streak of twenty-nine race finishes in a row and fourteen top-four finishes in the last fifteen races. Only Iddon and O’Halloran completed last season without a DNF, that streak has now gone for the Aussie after his crash in race two.
For the remaining riders in the field, it’s been a polar opposite start to the season for the Irwin brothers compared to this time last year. Glenn is struggling physically so Knockhill probably wasn’t the best place for him to try and throw his Honda around in the search for points, whereas Andy continues to struggle aboard his SYNETIQ BMW M 1000 RR, a 14th place in race two his best result of the year so far. Fellow BMW man Peter Hickman may well have been the fastest man not to make it onto the podium in Scotland as an engine issue on the final lap of race one and two off-track excursions on Sunday put paid to at least one certain podium finish. The TT maestro will almost certainly be back in the mix this weekend.
On the subject of BMW, the RICH Energy OMG Racing team had mixed results in Scotland as Brad Ray lead the black and gold charge. The Kent man added to his top-five tally twice north of the border, backing up his 5th place in race two at Oulton Park. Ray will be looking for a strong performance at his home track after a torrid end to the 2020 season with just one 14th place finish from the three races. Ray's teammate and great mate, Kyle Ryde, wasn't at his best at Knockhill, the under-the-weather Nottinghamshire ace came home 11th, 15th, and 17th.
Undoubtedly Tommy Bridewell will be keen to get his season underway after a difficult weekend in Fife, the Oxford Racing MotoRapido Ducati man showed well at his favoured Oulton Park and will be looking for more of the same at Brands Hatch. FS-3 Kawasaki’s Lee Jackson put in three solid performances last time out and will be ready to take the battle to the top five as development continues apace on the new Kawasaki ZX10-RR.
If you’re not at the circuit, then keep up with all the action across the social networks, the British Superbike app, as well as live timing at https://www.tsl-timing.com/Results/bsb along with full coverage on Quest TV (not British Eurosport this weekend because Olympics) with the usual suspects and the Eurosport app.
Just don’t look at the weather forecast for Sunday just yet…