Author: Oli Rushby Pics: Impact Images Posted: 06 Apr 2016
The 2016 British Superbike Championship gets underway this weekend at Silverstone and with a talent-packed field, it could be one of the best seasons we’ve seen so far.
It’s all change in BSB for 2016. Reigning champion Josh Brookes is gone, the ever-dominant Shane Byrne makes a bold move to Ducati and one of the best riders never to win the series, Leon Haslam returns for another crack.
There are just a handful of riders on the same bikes after one of the biggest shake-ups in British Superbike history making this one of the most difficult seasons to predict.
Not only is it hard to call who could take the title, but there are at least 15 riders with potential to make it into the final six for the three-round championship showdown.
BE WISER DUCATI
Shane Byrne #67
Glenn Irwin #2
Shane Byrne said he knew how good the Ducati could be the first time he rode it, despite the immense power blowing his brains out. The four-time champion says there were times in testing where his Panigale R felt like it had 6000bhp rather than the 200bhp it actually has, but his ear-to-ear grin has remained consistent throughout.
Never one to show his hand in testing, Byrne fired some clear warning shots with impressive pace at both Silverstone and Donington last week before insisting that he had even more in the bag.
“Even the things that are not quite so good still strengths for us,” said Byrne. “Our consistency on used tyres and our lap time seems to have come together really nicely so the thing that excites me is that I know how much we still have to come when the bike becomes much more manageable and usable.”
Having made it clear he’s out for the double this weekend, Byrne could be hard to stop this year but if you’re going to mount a challenge against the most successful BSB rider ever, a year where he’s finding his feet on a new bike is probably going to be your best chance.
Byrne’s team-mate, Glenn Irwin, will be looking to learn from his more experienced stable-mate as he makes the step up from the supersport class. Known as a bit of a wild child, Irwin told us ‘I do love a good lunge, but I’m not as crazy as people think’, but that remains to be seen. There’s no doubt he’ll be quick this year but there’s a chance he could spend a bit of time in the gravel. That being said, the Northern Irishman didn’t crash once in a mature display during testing.
JG SPEEDFIT KAWASAKI
Leon Haslam #91
James Ellison #77
Peter Hickman #60
Leon Haslam is one of the most decorated British Superbike riders not to have won the title. He came close on several occasions but he was never able to sew up the crown before he made the step up to World Superbikes, where he came equally close to clinching a title.
He isn’t back to make up the numbers and having completed more laps than anybody during pre-season testing he’s already looking strong. He topped the timesheets at last week’s Silverstone test and told Bike Social he ‘couldn’t be happier’ with how the transition had gone.
One challenge he’ll face is re-acclimatising to some of the trickier British tracks, but it shouldn’t be too hard for the Derbyshireman who still holds the lap record at Cadwell Park.
“I’ve never started a season where in my own head if I do my own job I should win,” he said. “There have always been other factors, whether it’s been not having the best bike or someone else having a better package meaning I have to override just to match them.
“While I know I’ve got some hurdles to overcome this year, including getting used to the British tracks, riding without electronics and the high level of competition, if I do my job, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be fighting for the title.”
Even firm believers in making your own luck will have had sympathy for James Ellison last year. Not one but two cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time curtailed his title fight last year as he missed several rounds through injury after crashes that weren’t his fault.
Now entering his third year with the GBmoto Kawasaki team, Ellison is one of few riders to stay put this year. However, he has got an updated version of the Kawasaki ZX-10R to contend with. He’s been struggling with a few rear-end issues through testing, but there’s no doubt he’ll be closer to the sharp end when the flag drops.
The team’s third rider is Peter Hickman, who has made more of a name for himself on the roads than in BSB in recent years but a proven podium finisher and race winner, Hickman shouldn’t be ruled out. He’ll be riding the best bike he’s ever ridden in the series, presenting him with one of the best chances to make his mark.
Michael Laverty #7
Christian Iddon #24
It took Michael Laverty and the Tyco BMW team longer than they’d initially expected to turn the BMW S1000RR into a title contender last season. In fact, it took them until the final three rounds when a major breakthrough with a new swingarm saw Laverty able to consistently challenge at the front.
Laverty told us they’d not changed too much on their race winning set-up from the last round at Brands Hatch over testing, but a bit of fine-tuning has left him in his ‘strongest position yet’ ahead of the season’s start.
This makes Laverty the only front runner not having to contend with change this year, which could make him a forced to be reckoned with at early rounds.
“This is probably my best shot at the title,” he said speaking to Bike Social. “I’ve never had the continuity before, I’ve always thought the grass was greener and regretted it once or twice! This time I knew what I wanted to do early doors, we’d put in a lot of hard work last year and I knew it’d pay dividends this year. I’ve got a team around me I’m happy with, I’ve got a bike underneath me that I’m happy with, I’ve had a really good pre-season and I’m in good shape. All the boxes are ticked and I think we’re ready to go!”
One thing that is new for Laverty this year is his team mate. Christian Iddon makes the jump from Bennetts Suzuki to Tyco BMW this year and has turned a few heads with his pre-season pace. Rounding out the final test at Donington third fastest, Iddon could pull a few surprises this year.
Ryuichi Kiyonari #23
Tommy Bridewell #46
Ryuichi Kiyonari might be the second most successful rider in British Superbike history, but 2015 was a disaster for the former champ. After fighting for the title until injury ruled him out in 2014, big things were expected from Kiyo last year but they never came.
The Japanese star struggled throughout the year, often unable to get into the points let alone the top ten leading to the Buildbase BMW team dropping him for the final round of the year.
For 2016 he’s hoping to unleash a new leap of life having signed with the Bennetts Suzuki team. Having put a GSX-R1000 on the podium at Suzuka last year, Kiyonari is confident he can return to prior form with his new team.
Joining him in the new-look outfit is race winner Tommy Bridewell, who is also looking to put a somewhat challenging season behind him. The West Countryman worked hard in testing to perfect the set up of his GSX-R and is confident of challenging from the word go.
“On the whole though we've had a really strong, really positive few tests, both out in Spain and back in the UK,” said Bridewell. “We've posted good times while still focusing on the actual testing. Everyone's working really hard and the guys in the team are going to go over all the data in the next few days. I don't mind testing but I get a little tired with it. Racing is the bit everyone` looks forward to, and hopefully we'll be in a good position for round one."
John Hopkins #21
Stuart Easton #5
When John Hopkins disappeared from the British Superbike Championship at the end of 2014, we thought we’d never see him again. Little did we know he’d turn up at the Donington test looking fitter than ever in search of a new ride. It took until mid-way through the season to find himself a team, taking over from Jakub Smrz on the MotoRapido Ducati.
The American instantly impressed, but a plethora of technical difficulties prevented him from taking a decent result until a long-awaited podium in the final rounds at Brands Hatch.
Riding Josh Brookes’ championship winning R1, Hopkins couldn’t stop smiling when he first got off the bike in Spain. It might be a steady start for the all-new outfit, but expect him to be there by the end of the season.
Stuart Easton was a weapon on a Supersport bike, so for him to be riding a superbike that has been likened to a 600 by almost everyone that’d ridden it should bode well for him. However, it’s easy to forget that the Scotsman is coming back after sitting out most of last season after a horrific 160mph smash at Brands Hatch.
Dan Linfoot #4
Jason O’Halloran #22
Jenny Tinmouth #20
The Honda Racing trio were hammered with bad luck last season. After fighting for the win in the opening round, Dan Linfoot was cruelly put out of action with a broken wrist shortly after. He made the showdown but never quite returned to that early form, something he’ll be hoping to repeat and prolong this year.
Jason O’Halloran faced similar fate. Progress made at Knockhill saw him consistently challenge for podiums until he was wiped out in qualifying at Thruxton by another rider. The broken leg he suffered ruled him out for the rest of the season and he didn’t ride again until Spanish testing earlier this year. Both O’Halloran and Linfoot have shown strong pace in testing, so while they may be a bit under the radar after a tough 2015 they could impress.
Jenny Tinmouth is very much a work in progress. Since joining Honda at the start of last season she has worked on becoming more consistent and at each circuit she improved her lap time, something she’ll be looking to continue this year.
Danny Buchan #83
Danny Buchan was a bit of a crasher in the first half of 2015 as he pushed the BeWiser Kawasaki beyond its limits in the early stages. However, when the bike came better the Essex lad showed maturity as he rode to a debut podium at Oulton Park.
Under the guidance of firm-handed and hilariously sarcastic MotoRapido team boss Steve ‘Wilf’ Moore, Buchan is tipped to go well this year. Having watched Buchan on track in testing, Ducati rival Shane Byrne has said the youngster looks incredibly smooth and expects him to be a threat from the word go.
Quattro Plant Kawasaki
Luke Mossey #12
Filip Backlund #99
Luke Mossey impressed in his rookie season last year to go on to take the Riders’ Cup for finishing as the best placed non-showdown rider. After impressing in pre-season testing, Mossey admits entering the 2015 season a little over-confident. A reality check and couple of non-points scoring finishes later, he opted for another strategy and soon became a podium challenger. Expect more of the same this year.
Having shown flashes of potential in his two years in BSB, Filip Backlund is somewhat of an unknown quantity. The Swedish rider will be looking to make his mark this season but will start injured after breaking his collarbone in a crash at Donington.
Richard Cooper #47
Lee Jackson #14
Multiple BSB podium finisher Richard Cooper lines up with Buildbase BMW for a full season this year after joining the squad half way through last season following a split with Anvil Hire Kawasaki. In his two full seasons in BSB, he’s made consistent progress and will be looking to build on that this year.
The youngest rider on the British Superbike grid, Lee Jackson has already impressed with a number of top ten results. He needs to be stepping that up this year if he’s going to make his mark.
Royal Air Force BMW
Alastair Seeley #34
Having missed out on a second National Superstock 1000 title by a whisper, Alastair Seeley steps up to the British Superbike class for the second time in 2016 with Lee Hardy’s RAF BMW squad. He’ll be hoping to make more of a mark than he did in his last stints with BSB in the Relentless Suzuki squad.
Smiths Racing BMW
Jakub Smrz #95
Howie Mainwaring #43
It’s an all new line up at Smiths BMW this year as they expand to a two-man team. Former WSB ace Jakub Smrz lines up alongside Howie Mainwaring as the Gloucester-based squad look to build on the podiums achieved in their maiden BSB season.
Lloyd and Jones PR Racing
Matej Smrz #25
The second Smrz joins the BSB paddock for 2016 with the Lloyd and Jones PR racing squad, which switches from Kawasaki to BMW power. However, after a heavy crash at Donington he’ll miss at least the first round.
Anvil Hire TAG Yamaha
James Rispoli #71
Shaun Winfield #8
American star James Rispoli steps up to BSB this year following two years in the British Supersport class, where he’s proved himself as a race winner. The TAG team have a successful history in British Supersport and podiums to their name in BSB.
Jack Kennedy #44
Sam Hornsey #94
Former World Supersport frontrunner Jack Kennedy returns to WD40 Kawasaki this season and is joined by former British Supersport front runner Sam Hornsey. The team’s testing was hampered by the theft of both superbikes plus their supersport bikes, but all looks to be back on track ahead of the opening round this weekend.
Vittorio Iannuzzo #31
Italian Superbike star and former World Superbike rider Vittorrio Iannuzzo returns to British Superbikes this season with the Gearlink Kawasaki team.
Billy McConnell #3
It was an eleventh hour switch for Billy McConnnell and the FS3 Kawasaki team, with the Aussie not signing on the dotted line until just days before Silverstone after leaving the Anvil Hire TAG squad. Having not ridden the bike, Silverstone will be a big jump for the 2014 British Supersport champion but they have proven pedigree having come straight from PBM.
Platform Hire Yamaha
Aaron Zanotti #64
Aaron Zanotti returns to British Superbikes this year with his trusty YZF-R1 in his home-run team.