Firstly, before we get into the opening race of BSB 2018, some housekeeping. To start, the race took place on qualifying day due to the unfavourable weather forecast for race day at Donington, with snow expected. Second, despite a crash and a discovered broken neck vertebra, Glenn Irwin qualified and raced aboard the Be Wiser Ducati.
The drama started before the race, though, as Sylvain Barrier failed to make the warm up lap because he didn’t have his gloves on, which is quite an embarrassing mistake to make on your debut with a new team, and so it was a pit lane start for the Frenchman.
But it was Leon Haslam off pole position on the JG Speedfit Kawasaki with his teammate Luke Mossey and PBM’s Shane Byrne joining him at the head of the grid.
Haslam made a good start, and Mossey’s was okay too, but Byrne had a nightmare, as the front wheel leapt in the air, meaning he had to shut the throttle before he could get going. This cost him many positions, and he ended the first lap back in tenth after both the Tyco BMWs of Michael Laverty and Christian Iddon made it past the reigning champion.
But it was Haslam leading them out of turn one, with Jason O’Halloran also making a great start from row two to move into second place, with James Ellison and Bradley Ray slotting into third and fourth initially, but a poor exit from turn one left the number 22 Honda reversing back to fourth place, and under pressure from the impressive returnee, Danny Buchan. Ellison passed Haslam at Starky’s to assume the lead, and the rest of the lap was pretty processional amongst the front runners, apart from Mossey passing Buchan for fifth, and then O’Halloran for fourth in Goddard’s. However, Mossey got a poor exit from the final corner, and allowed O’Halloran, Linfoot and Buchan back through, only to make a huge lunge up the inside of the number 4 Honda at Redgate.
By the start of lap two, Ellison had started to pull away from Haslam and Ray behind, with the Buildbase Suzuki rider apparently being held up by the ex-World Championship man. Mossey had cut past O’Halloran once more, but this time away from the glare of the cameras and down at the Old Hairpin. It must have been another tough move from the JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider as Linfoot also found himself ahead of his teammate.
Fourth placed Buchan got out of shape on the exit of Goddard’s to complete the second lap, which allowed Mossey up the inside at Redgate at the start of lap three. Meanwhile up ahead Brad Ray made the same pass on Leon Haslam for second.
Halfway round the third lap of eighteen and Tommy Bridewell had somehow managed to find himself crashed on the inside of McLean’s along with Kyle Ryde. The assumption is that the pair came together through the Schwantz curve and went straight on to end up where they did. A seemingly apologetic hand wave from Bridewell as he was getting up after the crash would seem to suggest that it was the Halsall Racing rider who was at fault.
By the start of lap 5, Linfoot had joined Mossey in moving past Buchan, and taken fifth place with it, meanwhile Byrne had started to make some progress, and was in seventh in front of O’Halloran.
The start of lap six saw Ray take the lead from Ellison with a sublime out-braking move once again at Redgate. On the same lap at the Foggy Esses, Byrne moved past Buchan, who by this point had developed tyre woes. Like everyone else apart from Gino Rea, Buchan picked the harder option rear tyre, but by lap six he ran out of grip.
By lap eight the gap between Ellison in second and Haslam in third had started to grow – not significantly, but enough for questions to be asked about the Kawasaki rider’s winning potential. The same could also be said for his teammate, Mossey, who, after a flamboyant start, had begun to look as though he was struggling too. Later in the lap, down at the Melbourne Hairpin, and Ray made his first mistake of the race, allowing Ellison an opportunity as he ran wide, but managed to regain control by making an inside move at Goddard’s. Although no positions were lost for the youngster, the mistake allowed the rest of the pack to close up, and it was now affirmatively a twelve-wheeler which led the opening race of the 2018 British Superbike Championship.
Haslam then had a go at taking Ellison’s second place at Redgate, sensing his opportunity after the minor squabble between the leading two, but Ellison had the grip to hold the Anvil Hire Tag Yamaha around the outside of turn one to hold his position, whilst Linfoot displaced Mossey at the same turn to snatch fourth momentarily before they returned to their previous positions when Luke stuffed the ZX10-RR down the inside of Linfoot’s Fireblade at the Old Hairpin.
At the beginning of lap ten there was now a real gap forming between second and third place, as Haslam’s rear grip diminished. It was visible how little corner speed he was carrying compared to his rivals, and also how much he was standing the bike up to get it driving – but even then it just sat down and span. Leon’s race was over at this point. This point was compounded when Mossey passed him at Starky’s and swiftly began to steam away, leaving Linfoot to pass his teammate at the Melbourne Hairpin, and Byrne made his move at Redgate when Haslam missed the corner completely. Then O’Halloran and Irwin were through, and the existence of an issue was beyond doubt. After the race, Leon explained that he had no grip from lap one, and that it was strange because he had completed a long run on the same spec tyre as he ran in the race, with all the laps in the 1’29s – the pace of the leaders. The number 91 was quick to avoid blaming Pirelli as he warned that there could have been an issue with the rear of the bike. But, for sure, something was not correct with the number 91 Kawasaki.
Onto lap twelve and Byrne briefly passed Linfoot, before the Honda rider responded at the top of Craner Curve. But, with a certain inevitability, Byrne was back through, and this time for good, at Goddard’s at the end of lap 12, as Brad Ray set a new race fastest lap, opening the gap out front to 0.775 seconds.
Things got worse for Linfoot on lap thirteen when his teammate passed him at the Foggy Esses, as Byrne was eyeing up a move on Mossey for third. Such a move came at the Melbourne Hairpin, and it forced Mossey wide, meaning he couldn’t respond.
Lap fourteen began, and it saw Linfoot pass O’Halloran back at turn one, as the Honda pair chased after Mossey, whilst swapping positions once more down at the Old Hairpin, which gave O’Halloran the prime opportunity to pass the number twelve at the Foggy Esses, before Linfoot also moved through on the JG Speedfit Kawasaki at the Melbourne Hairpin. It is probably worth pointing out at this point that Mossey was suffering a similar issue to Haslam, but not as severe, and it saw him haemorrhage positions through the remaining four laps of the race.
By now, lap fifteen, Ray had opened a 1.3 second advantage over Ellison, with Byrne a similar amount behind the number 11 Yamaha. Also, Linfoot passed O’Halloran back, but it was clear at this point that the Honda battle was going to the end.
The 1.3 second lead of Brad Ray was beginning to diminish by lap 16, and Byrne was coming along with Ellison, to build up to a last lap battle for the win.
And, sure enough, as the final lap began, Ellison was with Ray, and Byrne was close too, and lapping one second faster than the leader. A moment for Ray on the exit of the Foggy Esses perhaps gave Ellison a chance to attack, but it was in fact Byrne who put a move on Ellison for second. Shakey then tried to move past Ray at the final corner, but was too far away, leaving 20-year-old Bradley Ray to take a stunning debut victory from Shane Byrne and James Ellison.
Dan Linfoot won the Honda civil war, and his teammate ran on at the Melbourne Hairpin to gift fifth place back to Luke Mossey, and sixth to Glenn Irwin, who had a solid ride full stop, let alone with consideration to his injuries from Saturday. That left the second factory Honda in seventh, ahead of Peter Hickman in eighth, the grip-less Leon Haslam in ninth and Michael Laverty to round out the top ten.
Eleventh place was taken by Jake Dixon, twelfth by Josh Brookes who was suffering with rear vibrations of unknown cause; thirteenth was taken by Danny Buchan, 14th by Christian Iddon, and the final point was claimed by Moto Rapido Ducati’s Taylor Mackenzie. Richard Cooper finished his return to BSB in 16th, Gino Rea completed his class debut in 17th (perhaps down to his choice of a soft rear tyre, but he was also sore after a qualifying crash), Taz Mackenzie took eighteenth, Sylvain Barrier finally put his gloves on for nineteenth and Mason Law completed the top twenty on his BSB debut.
A fantastic, if cold, way to start the 2018 British Superbike season, and there is more to come tomorrow, providing the precipitation remains unfrozen.