When you’re racing week-in week-out, you develop a killer instinct. Gaps appear like magic, overtakes are easy and effortless. A rider in front runs a fraction wide, and you dart for the opening without hesitation. Although the overtake is harsh, it’s relatively smooth. You just do it, it’s second nature.
The more you race the more determined you become to win. That killer instinct hardens as you harass riders, forcing them into mistakes. You use every last inch of the racetrack and more if required, pushing the limits on every lap in practice and qualifying. Confidence is high; by mid-season you’re like a great white shark, patrolling the rocks waiting for a seal to take a swim.
You see it by observing the body language of some riders, especially those who walk to their bikes like they are about to walk into a bar brawl. On track some riders are clearly on the limit, rear wheel in the air as they brake deep into corners, elbows brushing kerb on the apex before running out beyond the white lines and more on the exit. This is how they role.
But when racers have been away from racing – maybe they lost their ride or had a season out with injury – that killer instinct is harder to find. That natural ability to second guess an opponent or see an overtake diminishes, whether you race at club or international level. And a rider lacking confidence, race craft, killer instinct – call it what you will – will never be fast enough. They can have the best bike on the grid supported by the most professional team but if they are lacking race laps and not willing to push to the limits with perfect race craft then, sorry, they’re not going to win.
As we enter a delayed-yet-new Bennetts British Superbike season we face uncertain and unprecedented times. The last competitive race for most of the BSB grid was the final round last year, way back in October 2019. The new season’s first round at Donington Park is scheduled for 7-9 August, which means most riders will have gone more than 10 months without a fight. That is nearly a year without biting the screen and driving into turn one with elbows out. You can train, ride pit-bikes and motocross, hit the gym daily – but, as our panel of riders and pundits reveal, nothing other than racing itself prepares you for going into that final chicane on the last lap.
James Whitham: It’s a strange one because when I was racing, especially in the early days, we didn’t really do any winter testing like today. We’d finish in October then get back on a bike March, and as soon as you got on the bike it would feel like a rocket ship, and that was with just 110-120bhp. You’d get back up to speed easy enough and today the BSB boys will be up to speed on the first lap, out of the trap… But you do lose that natural ability, the way you can second guess what is going to happen.
That’s when you see a situation happening before it happens. You know a rider is going to run wide and, before you realise, you’ve passed them and you’re onto the next rider. You never really plan it, it’s second nature, an instinct. It’s the same when you see riders coming together into turn one: you can see it happening before it happens, and you’ve already avoided the accident, or cut up the middle and sneaked a few places. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t raced, and some riders will fare better than others – this is where experience will show.
Into Redgate at the first race of the new season and you might see some nervous riders, but you’ll also see others who’ll take advantage of that and won't be afraid it run up the inside or cut back down through Craner Curves. It will be good to watch.
Danny Buchan: It’s going to be strange because in normal times some riders can be injured or take a year out and come back, but now all of us are rusty, nobody is race-ready. We’re all testing, getting back up to speed, but to be this long without racing is unheard of – the longest I’ve ever been without racing.
We’ve all been caged up like bulls and once we are let loose it could be mad, all going crazy. But it will be interesting to see how we all dive into turn one at the first race. To be honest, I’ve not really thought about it too much, I just want to get going now.
Peter Hickman: I’m not too worried about testing or getting back onto a bike after 11 months; after a few laps I’ll be back up to speed. I recently had a wobble around Cadwell Park and felt comfortable in a few laps. Everyone in BSB is experienced, each rider has always wanted to overtake and win since they started. A year out isn’t a problem; maybe after two years out you might lose your edge, but we’re all professionals in BSB. Normally, when you are out of racing due to an injury, everyone else is racing, so you’re sort of missing out. But this time it’s different as we’re all in the same boat.
Taylor Mackenzie: We talked about this when lockdown started. Getting up to speed shouldn’t be a problem, but losing that ability to race might. We were comparing it to boxers who train hard before a big fight, go into a specific training camp to get sharper before a fight night. We’ve been practising at home in the field on 125 bikes. Setting up race starts, pushing each other, overtaking… racing essentially. It’s not like going in to turn one 30 bikes shoulder to shoulder, but it might help. It’s something you can’t really train for but we’ve had a go. At the end of the day, we are experienced riders, but it will be interesting into turn one first time out.
Josh Brookes: This is something I have thought about. I seem to get better towards the end of the season, the results seem to come easier, and I’m unsure why that is. I’m trying just as hard at the start of the season but the results show I’m performing better in the second half. Sometimes at the start you’ll wait a lap before making a move, plan the overtake, yet somehow towards the end of the season it just happens, the overtake is done before you’ve even thought about it. It’s a strange one, but the more you race the easier to becomes, like a natural instinct. It will be interesting at the first few rounds as lap times won’t be a problem, but race craft might be, and everyone will be in the same boat.