This weekend sees the race for the British Superbike Championship begin in earnest, as the top six riders in the series battle it out for the honour of becoming the 2017 champion.
The British series uses a unique format in motorcycle racing that sees the first nine race weekends, known as the Main Season, used to determine the six ‘Title Fighters’ – the only riders capable lifting the prestigious title.
Maligned by some, loved by others, the format is meant to stop runaway championship wins, minimise the disadvantage to riders who miss races through injury and keep the interest alive right to the end of the season. The top six are all allocated a standard 500 championship points, with small bonuses for podium finishes.
Ironically the texture of this year’s championship has seen no rider really able to make their mark, with four of the top eight riders missing races through injury and just 63 points separating them at the end of last weekend’s Silverstone race. Under Showdown rules, with five bonus points allocated for race wins, three for seconds and one for thirds, just 29 points separate leader Shane Byrne and sixth placed Jason O’Halloran.
Seven races, across three race weekends, will now decide the title, which is the most open yet. Last weekend’s three races at Silverstone delivered all of the drama that the Showdown format has been engineered to provide. Quirky weather saw Saturday’s race take place with half of the track under water and the other half bone dry – conditions that caught out the top two riders in the championship in Byrne and Leon Haslam.
Haslam had a nightmare in Silverstone, failing to finish any of the three races, but the Showdown format should benefit the former Grand Prix and World Superbike man, who led the opening rounds of the championship before missing a round through injury mid-season.
Silverstone’s Showdown deciding third race was as dramatic as it gets. Run in treacherously wet conditions, just seven riders made it to the flag – a result of another unique British championship rule that means riders are unable to remount after sliding off. The big loser in the conditions was Christian Iddon, another to miss mid-season races through injury, who crashed out of a second place that would have seen him push into the top six. Also crashing out was Luke Mossey, another early season front runner who had to sit races out, and that handed the final top six place to Jake Dixon who, at 21, is the youngest rider to make the final six.
While he may have just squeezed into the top six, Dixon’s six podium finishes in a strong end to the main season sees him sit fourth in the points race, just 14 points behind five time champ Byrne. Another former champion, Josh Brookes, has also made a late season spurt and goes lies third in the championship, 10 behind Byrne and just four adrift of second-placed Haslam.
The final two are joined by Peter Hickman and Jason O’Halloran, both of whom will be seen as outsiders, yet perfectly capable of lifting the title should the cards fall in their favour.
Lincolnshire rider Hickman has switched between British superbikes and the real roads circuit, taking a win at Thruxton and scoring points in all but Sunday’s crash fest at Silverstone. That race also saw the end of O’Halloran’s 100% points scoring record, and while the Australian will be an outsider for the title, with only three third places to his name, he also goes into the Showdown with momentum on his side. The ‘O’Show’ has spent the season developing the 2017 Honda Fireblade and his team has made big progress in recent rounds, with O’Halloran setting pole position at Silverstone and team-mate Dan Linfoot taking the squad’s first win in the wet final race. Honda’s appearance in the Showdown means that five manufacturers are represented in the title fight.
The first two races of the Showdown take place at Cheshire’s Oulton Park this Sunday, with two more races at Assen, in the Netherlands, two weeks later. The title will be decided over three races at Brands Hatch on the weekend of 14-15 October, with all races shown live on British Eurosport.
British Superbike championship standings:
1. Shane Byrne (Ducati) 532 points,
2. Leon Haslam (Kawasaki) 526,
3. Josh Brookes (Yamaha) 522,
4. Jake Dixon (Kawasaki) 518,
5. Peter Hickman (BMW) 509,
6. Jason O’Halloran (Honda) 503