After a long winter break, the British Superbike Championship returns this weekend for the opening round of the 2019 season at Silverstone.
The 2018 round at the Northamptonshire track saw the national layout used, following the MotoGP fiasco a couple of weeks prior. The results were fantastic, as the racing was close and action-packed. Additionally, it is easy for a national championship to make a facility the size of Silverstone seem empty, even with a solid attendance, because certain grandstands will be shut off, and often the races can become quite spread out on a 3.6-mile circuit. The national layout combated both of those issues, although that was not the intention, with the shorter layout seeing big groups fight for the lead for the whole race, and the smaller area making the atmosphere more tangible from the television perspective.
The positive feedback of Silverstone’s round last year prompted the Championship to run the shorter circuit this year as well, and as such the series will likely be off to a thrilling start.
Last year’s races saw Leon Haslam claim both victories, but with both the reigning BSB champion and Jake Dixon, last year’s runner up, having moved on, there is expected to be a shake up this year, with yet more young riders coming through and big names from the World Championship arriving to mix it up with the more established names in the British championship.
Of course, one of the biggest talking points this year in the World Superbike Championship has been the domination of, in the hands of Alvaro Bautista, the new Ducati Panigale V4R. Ahead of the start of the BSB season, there is some anticipation about the performance of the new Ducati in the hands of Scott Redding, his BeWiser Ducati teammate and 2015 BSB champion Josh Brookes, as well as Tommy Bridewell (Oxford MotoRapido). The main advantage of the new Panigale is its motor, and in WorldSBK it seems that Bautista has been able to extract the maximum from the V4R’s strongest point. It will be interesting to see if any of the Ducati riders in the British series are able to do something similar, although with the lack of any real straights in British tracks, the likelihood of that is small.
Nonetheless, it is going to be interesting to see how the bike performs, and also how its pilots perform. Scott Redding is perhaps the most highly anticipated rider in BSB this year, having come from Grand Prix where he was many times a winner, many times a podium finisher and once a championship challenger. From his fairly active social media accounts, it seems Redding is looking forward to this season, and that it probably not something he has felt for a few years. Certainly, the ex-MotoGP star will be both expecting and expected to fight for the championship this year, despite his lack of knowledge of the British tracks, of Pirelli tyres and of derivative racing in general.
His teammate, Josh Brookes, however, has none of the ‘excuses’ – if that’s what you’d like to call them – that Redding has for this year. A veteran of the BSB paddock, and the 2015 champion, Brookes is sure to be a favourite this year, especially with such a strong package. Perhaps it is also worth remembering that Brookes’ title winning year was also the racing debut year of the current model Yamaha R1, much as 2019 is the debut of the Panigale V4R.
For the third Ducati rider this year, Tommy Bridewell, there is a sense of opportunity in 2019. Having gelled so well with the V-twin Panigale in the second half of last season, it was no surprise to see the #46 retained by the MotoRapido squad for 2019, and both he and the team will be hoping that the relationship with the new V4R will be as smooth and fruitful as the short-lived partnership between Bridewell and the V-twin at the end of last year.
In all likelihood, the V4R will not be as dominant in BSB as it has been to this point in the World Championship. The regulations in BSB have so far worked perfectly since their introduction, allowing all makes and models of Superbike to be competitive on the national scene in Britain. It would therefore be a shock to see Ducati make off with this championship as they are doing on the world stage. As well as the Borgo Panigale machines, Yamaha, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki should all be there fighting for race wins as well.
Yamaha, with Tarran Mackenzie and Jason O’Halloran at the McAMS Yamaha outfit, and with Dan Linfoot at the TAG Racing squad, will be hoping to reclaim the championship they last won in 2015 with Brookes. Seeing the R1 so strong in the World Championship so far in 2019 must fill the BSB riders with a lot of confidence about their chances for this season.
Despite being in only his second season of BSB, Mackenzie will be heading to Silverstone this weekend in search of the first win he so nearly clinched at the same track last year, and from there will hope to fight all the way for the title. Similarly, his teammate O’Halloran, and their stablemate Linfoot, are brand new to Yamaha this year, but will be after results from the beginning.
There are also two new faces in Honda for this season, with Andrew Irwin being joined by multiple WSBK podium finisher Xavi Fores in the factory Honda squad. Irwin made a superb adaptation to Superbike last year after his mid-season call up to the PBM Ducati squad to replace the injured Shane Byrne. That earned him the Honda ride, and he will certainly be one to watch out for this year.
Fores, on the other hand, has a similar situation to Redding. The Spaniard has zero knowledge of British tracks ahead of this season, and so will be learning every time he goes out on track. However, unlike Redding, he doesn’t have 240hp.
The new BMW this year has proven a hit on the world stage, both factory BMW riders in WSBK, Tom Sykes and Markus Reiterberger, praising the chassis of the new S1000RR. What it has in the corners, however, it certainly loses in the straights. Whilst that might not be such a problem at most British circuits, at the most wide-open track of the year – which, whilst the Hangar straight is missing, is still very fast – a lack of power is likely to be the biggest hindrance this weekend.
Those riders who were able to make the old S1000RR work so well in the past – mostly Peter Hickman (Smith’s Racing) – will be hoping they can make the new bike work in a similar way, but with such a difference in bike characteristic there will undoubtedly be some adapting to do this year. This adaptation process will carry on through much of the season, too, since neither Smith’s nor TAS Racing received their new BMWs in time for the official BSB tests in Spain, so only had the Silverstone test last week to start work on their new machines.
For the third BMW team, PR Racing, and their rider Joe Francis, this process is delayed even further as their new bike will not be race-ready until round two at Oulton Park, and so the Liverpool-based team will be running the old-spec bike at round one this weekend.
Suzuki once more will be pinning their hopes on Bradley Ray (Buildbase Suzuki). The Milkybar Kid has certainly impressed the factory bosses; two wins and a further podium in the first two rounds of last season were followed by an impressive performance at the Suzuka 8 Hour last summer, and in February Ray got his first taste of MotoGP with the GSX-RR in Sepang.
Whether Ray will be able to return to the form that impressed so much at the start of last season, but faded through the rest of the year, remains to be seen, but should the #28 be able to maintain form like that throughout the thirteen rounds he could be a real problem for his rivals.
Kawasaki won their first BSB crown since Shane Byrne in 2014, last year, but with Leon Haslam having moved up to the World Championship the pressure now lies with, primarily, Glenn Irwin (Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki) and Danny Buchan (FS-3 Kawasaki) to retain that title. Irwin’s teammate, Ben Currie (Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki) will also be looking to make his mark this year on the top class as he moves up from Supersport for his first season on a Superbike.
Featured Image courtesy of Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool