SIX RACES TO DECIDE EIGHT SHOWDOWN PLACES AND WITH SIX PLACES LOOKING SECURE THE FIGHT BEGINS FOR THE FINAL TWO SLOTS
*Afore we get started, the news that Brad Jones has been discharged from hospital to continue his recovery and recuperation at home has gladdened the hearts of the fans and everyone involved in BSB. We send our absolute best wishes to Brad, Courtney and the Jones family.
This weekend sees the start of a pivotal period in the Bennetts British Superbike calendar as the series embarks on a run of four race weekends in five weeks with the first two at Snetterton and Silverstone marking the run to the Showdown phase of the Championship. The top three are safely into the next phase as Jason O’Halloran, Tarran Mackenzie and Christian Iddon have all done enough up to this point and with Peter Hickman, Tommy Bridewell, and reigning 'Race of Aces' champion, Glenn Irwin carrying their usual consistency, there are realistically only two positions available for the chasing pack. Danny Buchan will return from his weekend on the side-lines after his enforced sabbatical and three strong results in Norfolk will just about seal his place (fyi, neither Buchan nor Hickman have ever been on the podium at Snetterton) so that potentially leaves just one…
Just as he did at Cadwell with his 49th, 50th and 51st podiums (making him the 13th most podiumed rider in modern BSB), the Snetterton round in '20 saw a hattrick of podiums for Oxford Products MotoRapido Ducati's Tommy Bridewell, while Vision Track PBM’s Christian Iddon took his long-overdue maiden British Superbike win in the opening race of the weekend. On the other side of the PBM garage, Josh Brookes was barely out of the top three across the 2020 Snetterton weekend and off the back of his most successful round of 2021, it would be remiss to bet against him securing his maiden podium of the year around the 2.99-mile 300 layout (if only they could've found another 17m of tarmac to make it 3 miles exactly...).
The key to Glenn Irwin’s performance this weekend will be just how much the shoulder injury that held him back at Cadwell Park has healed. Fast over short stints through the test, Free Practice and Qualifying in Lincolnshire but when it came to the races the shoulder weaknesses began to show and Irwin just couldn’t keep his Honda in podium contention. His first, and currently last race win for Honda was race three at this weekend's venue (some 54 weeks and 30 races ago) so a repeat performance this weekend would be a real shot in the arm for the Ulsterman.
What of the McAMS Yamaha pairing? O’Halloran once again provided a championship masterclass at his home round as the Pastor of Potterhanworth played the long game to perfection. While FHO Racing’s Peter Hickman took the double with victories in Race One and Race Two, the Aussie followed him home in both races but wasn’t to be denied a win at Cadwell Park as the title leader took advantage of a rare Hickman slide in the closing stages of race three. O’Halloran rode an inch-perfect final lap to take the victory, denying fellow Lincolnshire domicile and new lap record holder, Hickman, the chance of becoming a hattrick hero and spoiling a headline writers wet dream. Snetterton is a happy hunting ground for the O'Show, he took his maiden BSB podium there (just as it does Donington, the Honda loves Snetterton) and then followed it up with his maiden win a year later.
Tarran Mackenzie wasn’t so fortunate up in the Wolds AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, dontchya know) as the Scottish Englishman lost his line between the Hairpin and Barn, veered onto the grass, and subsequently launched himself into the air fence as his McAMS Yamaha R1 came to a standstill halfway to Skegness after clearing the fencing and barrel-rolling out of sight. A hand injury (and no doubt a little bit shaken up) precluded any further participation in the meeting but with a career-best points haul after six rounds, Mackenzie is firmly in the Showdown Eight.
O'Halloran currently holds a ginormous 119-point lead over Mackenzie and Iddon (he's only DNF'd once this season, remember?) but in Showdown terms that advantage currently sits at 33 points over Iddon and 36 over his teammate ahead of Snetterton. Maybe this weekend the big prize will finally take on a different form for the main protagonists (as if they're not thinking about it from Round 1, race 1...) as podium credits become the most crucial of all. No longer is 25 points for the win the goal, 5 podium credits per race are now the carrot before the culmination of race three at Silverstone sees the championship table reset and the 25-point prize return sans podium credits. Six races, 30 credits in total, 'game on' we say (did anyone else say that in a Tony Green 'Bullseye' style? No? Just us then...)!
The final Showdown place is where the tension will be ramped up over the next six races. FS-3’s Lee Jackson currently holds the coveted spot after his best round of the season so far at Cadwell Park with Brad Ray, Ryan Vickers, Rory Skinner and Josh Brookes all holding a realistic shot at ousting Leebob. Different tracks suit different bikes (unless you’re on a Yamaha or Ducati, they appear to work well EVERYWHERE) and just like Cadwell Park, Snetterton is another track that is yet to see a BMW take the win, something Brad Ray will be aiming to overturn.
With home track support, Ryan Vickers will be keen to turn recent fortunes around (10, 9, 8, DNF, 7, 6 isn't the points trend you need at this crucial time of the season) while Jackson's FS-3 teammate Rory Skinner, who has been impressive in his rookie season and is fresh from a jaunt to MotoGP (as a fan and likely a conversation or two to be had about options for 2022), needs an upturn in results if he’s to make the final eight as his points average has ebbed since his exceptional Knockhill performance.
Speaking of points averages, let's have a look. The points gained over the last six races for those battling for the last slot sees Josh Brookes slightly in the in the ascendancy, averaging 7.8 points per race with a total of 47 while Rory Skinner has dropped to 3 points per race. Both Brad Ray and Lee Jackson have amassed 45 points, with a 7.5-point average with Vickers dropping away on 40 points and a 6.6-point average. Work to be done by all if they want that last slot.
As was written earlier, Josh Brookes has a good history at Snetterton, and with the team and rider seemingly to have made a step forward at Cadwell, can the reigning champion sneak into the Showdown? Brad Ray also races well in Norfolk and the task of beating Brookes, Jackson, Skinner and Vickers isn’t lost on the Kent man. Can Brookes overhaul the men above him? Can Leebob and Brad Ray fight them all off to battle between themselves? Or will it be a resurgent Skinner or Vickers that takes the coveted final slot? Absolutely no idea, to be honest...!
Nothing less than getting the better of each other will do and any mistake or DNF will be more costly now than at any other time in the season, making that little mini championship something rather fascinating to watch unfold over the next six races.
Catch all the action at the circuit, live on British Eurosport 2 and the Player across Saturday and Sunday in between WorldSBKfrom Mangy Corpse, the BSB Superpicks App and the ever-faithful https://www.tsl-timing.com/event/213504
Cheers as always to Bikesportnews and Phil Wain for the smattering of stats - some we knew, some were welcome additions.