The 2017 British Superbike Championship kicks off at Leicestershire’s Donington Park this weekend, with the championship’s big hitters talking up their chances of lifting the coveted trophy at the end of the season.
Last year’s championship was all about the epic battle between veterans Shane Byrne and Leon Haslam. Haslam took a slender lead into the title-deciding ‘showdown’ but a crash at DoningtonPark saw Ducati man Byrne take a record fifth superbike title.
This time around there are two other old heads returning to the series with their eyes on the prize. Josh Brookes is back after a disappointing year in world superbikes, while 2014 Superbike World Champion spearheads Suzuki’s challenge with the new GSX-R1000.
Most experts consider that last year’s top two will be challenging again, with Haslam typically bullish about his chances for the season with the Bournemouth Kawasaki squad.
“Our aim for this season is to win the championship,” he said. “We got a lot of wins last year but we need to make it count in the showdown, which is where it matters. Testing has gone fantastic, it really couldn’t have gone any better. We’re kicking off the year better than we did in 2016 and I’m super excited to be working with this new team.”
Byrne’s Paul Bird Motorsport team has had a low key winter testing programme and even though development work has been slow on the Panigale, it’s still the combination to beat this weekend.
“It’s been a long winter to be honest,” said Byrne. “Having won last year, I’ve been itching to go racing again ever since. Pre-season testing was good but not ideal as some of the parts we wanted to test weren’t available, but hopefully those parts will be with us shortly and will certainly be worth the wait. The plan at Donington is to push as hard as I can throughout the weekend to get my title defence off to the best possible start.”
Brookes will be reunited with the Yamaha YZF-R1, the bike he took to the 2015 title, but the Australian was late in putting a deal together and finds himself with the unfancied privateer TAG Racing team, whose sole points scoring finish in 2016 was a lowly 13th at Snetterton. Brookes’ preparation has been hampered by poor weather during testing but, despite this, the 33-year-old still has his eyes on the win.
He said: “The last five days I’ve ridden on a bike, four of them have been in the wet so rain seems to be the consistent factor as of late.
“I’m happy with the bike in the conditions I have ridden it in, but it’s no way to gauge the performance of me or the bike it’s just been bad conditions, it’s certainly no yardstick, so we’ll just have to wait for better weather.
“I don’t feel frustrated about it, that’s just the facts. Logic states that better weather would have been more suitable to our preparation and we just haven’t had it. It’s the same for everyone, everyone wants to get out and start riding properly. We have to win, the plan is to win, that is our goal and that is what everyone wants to start the season of on a high.”
This year’s depth of talent means we could expect to see a record number of race winners in this year’s championship. Moto Rapido Ducati’s John Hopkins is an ex-MotoGP rider, while Haslam’s team-mate 24-year-old Luke Mossey has shown plenty of speed in the past and will be a real contender if he can step up his consistency. The same can be said for Christian Iddon on the Tyco BMW, while his team-mate is Italian wild man Davide Giugliano, who should be entertaining and fast, to say the least.
Yamaha’s official entry is run by rock star Keith Flint’s Team Traction Control. They field former race winners and perennial nearly men James Ellison and Michael Laverty, while Honda’s official team retains the services of Dan Linfoot and Aussie Jason O’Halloran – a pair of race winners who can also challenge for honours if the team can get the new-for-2017 Fireblade up to speed quickly enough.
It promises to be a barnstorming season and if you can’t get along to Donington Park in person, the races are screened live on British Eurosport, with highlights on ITV4 next week.