The wild old days

Author: Paul Posted: 25 May 2016

Reynolds and Haga tough it out in 2000With Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies and Leon Camier expected to be up at the sharp end, there will be plenty of British interest at this weekend’s Donington Park world superbike round, but sadly one thing that will be missing is the anticipation of a local wildcard coming along and scooping the honours. From the days of Mackenzie and Whitham in the mid-90s, to the glory of Hodgson and Walker at the start of the millennium, the BSB wildcards always proved a thorn in the side of the world championship regulars.

The last time we saw the locals really mixing it was when Cal Crutchlow and Tom Sykes took to the podium in 2008, but those days are gone, as Bike Social discovered. 

Despite the fact that we had championship battling figures on the world stage in the form of Foggy, Hodgson and Toseland, the sight of local heroes going up against the legends of the sport was a hallmark of the events at Brands Hatch and Donington Park over the years. 

Names such as Byrne, Reynolds, Haydon, Haslam, Crutchlow, Sykes and Hislop, plus many others brought in the crowds and added another dimension, but what is the main reason we don’t see the local underdog taking it to the world’s best anymore?

"Electronics is 100% the reason,” explained former World Superbike man Leon Haslam in an interview with Bike Social. “To convert a British Superbike into a World Superbike, you're talking months and months of testing and development to make the bike work, to adapt the fuelling and the mapping, everything that a ‘regular’ team are doing week in and week out and have a base. 

“You can't expect a wildcard to just find all that and be competitive on a British Superbike spec machine and compete against the world's best with no traction control and no anti wheelie. You wouldn’t be giving yourself a decent shot at it." 

Back in the day, the specifications of both British and world superbike machines were more or less the same, which we saw when ‘Hizzy’ wowed the crowd at Donington Park, beating the overall lap record on his British superbike Ducati. And who can forget the momentous 2000 British Superbike Championship, when Neil Hodgson and Chris Walker knocked ten bells out of each other in the domestic series, while standing on the podium while wildcarding in the worlds? It wasn’t just them either, as John Reynolds (pictured above) proved when he took a win at Brands Hatch on his Red Bull Ducati at the end of the year.

Tommy Hill, on pole at Silverstone Then there was the surprise package of Tommy Hill (picture above), when he put it on pole position in the wet at Silverstone on his Virgin Yamaha in 2006.

"It was a British Superbike bike,” says Hill, who now runs the ePayMe Yamaha squad in the British championship. “We didn't have traction control or anything and I went out, did what I did, it was amazing day.

“The good thing for us was that we were on Pirellis in British Superbikes where we were up against Dunlop and Michelin, who were flying tyres in overnight (the world championship used Pirelli tyres exclusively). We went there and had some top 10 finishes and stuff. It's a mega thing to do for a team, but everyone's budgets have changed over the last few years’ things are little bit tighter so there are factors that come into it."

And it wasn’t just here in Blighty. Who can forget the spectacle of kamikaze Japanese local riders such as Noriyuki Haga and Makoto Tamada. Less remembered, Akiro Ryo won the Japanese round back in 1999 on an unfancied factory Suzuki.

In the States, fast Yanks such as Ben Bostrom and Doug Chandler impressed on home soil along with the brash young Australian Anthony Gobert. 

Now with the major break for World Superbikes following the cancellation of the Italian round at Monza, could we see teams coming back to British Superbikes just like Tom Sykes did a few years ago? 

"Yeah but again they have to change electronics and get a controlled ECU,” said Hill.

“A lot of the world superbike rules are altered in a few ways, and things are a lot different to this championship (BSB). I think it is difficult for a team to come here and do this, because if they did they'd have to build a brand new bike. And it depends where you are in the championship.

“It's a difficult one because some of the guys coming could affect the showdown part of this championship and it could upset, but it’s always good for a spectacle."

With the quality of riders and the level of competition in British superbikes at the moment, and the struggles facing some teams on the World stage, would we see them dominating if they came over to BSB? Well, one man feels they won’t… 

"No, I am sure they wouldn’t” said Haslam. “I don't think they'd be in the top three to be honest. Not because of the spec of rider, Josh won convincingly last year on the Yamaha but to come back and not use electronics and adapt themselves, the bike and the team I think it’s a big ask.

“When Tom came back with the PBM bike he was in a big battle for the whole race and the bike was the same. But now you’re asking them to come back with no electronics and no setup, I think it’s a big ask."

Perhaps one day we will see the adoption of a global set of superbike regulations that will allow domestic teams to compete again on the world stage. If that happens, we’re sure that some of the excitement surrounding world superbikes will return again, not just here in the UK, but also in other superbike heartlands, like Australia and the USA.