The sun shone on the opening round of the 2019 British Superbike Championship at Silverstone, with plenty of drama right from the very first race.
In qualifying it was the McAMS Yamahas of Tarran Mackenzie and Jason O’Halloran leading the way and showing that their sharp pre-season testing was no flash in the pan, with the much vaunted combination of MotoGP exile Scott Redding and his PBM Ducati Panigale V4R completing the grid in third.
In Easter Sunday’s opening race, O’Halloran ran at the front for almost the entire race, followed closely by Mackenzie and surprise package Josh Elliott on his OMG Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000. The drama unfolded in the final section of the 30 lap race, when the two Yamaha riders traded places, with Mackenzie’s final move, forceful enough to knock his team-mate off at the last corner. The likable 23-year-old sheepishly stood on top of the podium for what looked like his first ever British superbike win, only for organisers to penalise him three seconds and hand the win to Elliott who, like Mackenzie, is a product of the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies programme. O’Halloran’s fall handed the final podium spot to Redding on his BSB debut.
Race two proved equally as dramatic. Redding was an early faller, knocked off by another rider, while team-mate (and fellow pre-season favourite) Josh Brookes suffered his second mechanical failure of the day and brought out the safety car as marshals cleared up the debris. O’Halloran’s miserable Easter Sunday continued when his YZF-R1 also expired in a plume of smoke, leaving Mackenzie and Elliott to contest the lead.
In the end, Mackenzie crossed the line first again and finally collected his first British superbike win, following in the tyre tracks of his father Niall, who was a triple BSB champion in the 1990s. Elliott’s second sees he and Mackenzie leave Silverstone as joint championship leaders, 21 points ahead of the consistent Tommy Bridewell in third.
“To get my first proper victory is amazing,” said Mackenzie. “We didn’t have the best pre-season and struggled quite a lot, but we found something on Friday that made the bike a little easier to ride and gave me a lot more confidence. It was unfortunate what happened in race one, I tried to put that to the back of my mind and got on with race two. I was gutted to see Jason break down as I genuinely wanted to have a proper race with him. The safety car coming out towards the end of the second race made things more difficult, but I was able to maintain the gap and take the win.”
The opening round threw up plenty of surprises, with Aussie front runners O’Halloran and Brookes failing to score and a number of other top men – including Buildbase Suzuki’s Bradley Ray, Tyco BMW’s Christian Iddon and Bournemouth Kawasaki rider Glenn Irwin not yet hitting their best form. Despite his bad luck, O’Halloran remained pragmatic, adding: “That’s bike racing. We had a really strong weekend and worked hard all through practice, qualified on the front row of the grid and then got to the front in race one and led 29 and three quarter laps. I felt really comfortable on the bike so fair play to the guys. I’ve never felt so comfortable and in control of a race, but unfortunately we had the coming together at the final corner. In race two, the bike felt slow from the start but I was still coming back through when we had the issue. Oulton Park will be round one for me, we need to forget this weekend and focus on the positives. In my whole career I have never had so much pace, or so much control on a bike so I’m looking forward to the year ahead.”
Redding added: “I was obviously happy to take the podium in the first race, but it wasn’t a deserved one as the three riders in front of me had more pace. To be honest, I didn’t expect the pace to be so quick at the beginning, but I hung in as best I could. It was disappointing to be taken down in race two and I’m very sore, but I should be OK for Oulton Park. Despite that, what a fantastic reception I got from the BSB race fans, it was quite emotional so thanks to them all for that. We now have a test at Oulton and need to work on a few issues and hopefully see some improved results at the next round.”
Meanwhile, Brookes commented: “There’s not a lot I can say about today other than it’s obviously disappointing to come away with no points, but I wasn’t alone as Jason O’Halloran was another rider to have strong rides only to come away with two DNFs. That’s the nature of racing and you can have as many good weekends as bad ones so it’s a shame for the whole team that we didn’t finish either race. I think we showed the pace we have when everything’s going well, and we’re all motivated to do well as we know what potential we have but sometimes things happen that are out of our control. We’ve shown that we’re competitive against the other teams and know there’s plenty more to come so we’ll just forget about this weekend and look ahead to the next one.”
The British Superbike Championship resumes at Cheshire’s Oulton Park circuit on the Bank Holiday weekend of 4-6 May.