Sport is, by its very nature, riddled with well-worn cliches.
For every glorious success, there is a salty defeat. To be the best, you have to beat the best. Finishing second makes you first of the losers. In motorsport terms, the frequently trotted out trope is ‘points win prizes’… except, in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship (BSB) they might not.
The BSB Title Showdown may no longer be a novelty, but it remains a quirky way to determine a champion, awarding greater value to the final three rounds of the season. Divisive though it may be, there is no denying it amps up the entertainment value from the comfort of one’s armchair… and after all, what is sport if one is not entertained?
Indeed, while motorsport demands the not-always synergistic juggle of pure performance and consistency, BSB flicks in opportunistic timing and luck into the mix too.
Which is why it’s hard not to feel for Jason O’Halloran. No other rider achieved more race wins, podiums, and points over the duration of 11 BSB rounds of 33 races than he did in 2021. And yet he took home a bronze medal.
Alas, not one of those victories came at the ‘right time’, those 11 wins accounting for just 55 points in total, relative to the 25 points available in each of the nine concluding races.
Consider it unlucky or unfair, but much like an Olympian injured moments before a Games, a footballer dealt a red card before the World Cup Final or Novak Djokovic missing two shots to be dumped out of the Australian Open (and the country), timing can be everything. Or, to borrow a cliche from O’Halloran himself, it’s simply ‘the way the cookie crumbles…’
While few athletes are unlikely to relate to seeing a 106-point advantage slashed to 30 points between competition without wrongdoing, many can no doubt understand the pressure that comes with the spotlight trained notion you have to do it all over again.
“To start with, it was really tough,” he tells BikeSocial in an exclusive interview. “I’m sat there at the end, and I’ve won more races than he (Mackenzie) won, more podiums than he won, more points than he won. If you blinked, I wasn’t involved in it. All the media, everything, is just on the champion, which is what you expect. So, it’s really, really, tough to deal with
“Going from that big lead, all the focus was on me winning the races, having the massive championship lead, which obviously meant nothing because it just got wiped out. First race at Oulton Park, I had a few issues but was leading the race two laps to go, then crashed. I was 106 points clear after Silverstone, then in the first race of the Showdown it was down to five points.
“Basically, a whole year’s work wiped out in one race. That was the start of the bad snowball, the wrong way snowball.”
The rest is history, and it reads Tarran “Taz” Mackenzie in those books, but the future is still unwritten. Fortunately for him he doesn’t need to wait four years - or adopt a more respectful vaccination stance - for another crack at redeeming some unfinished business. More than that, far from allowing the disappointment to linger, he is determined to weaponise that heartbreak to turn embattled to emboldened in pursuit of 2022 Bennetts BSB gold.
O’Halloran is convinced his time will come, which is fitting because he’s dedicated a lot of exactly that in BSB.
Making his series debut back in 2008, O’Halloran is a veritable stalwart in BSB terms. Indeed, only one rider on the 2022 entry list - Peter Hickman - can claim to have shared the same racetrack 14 years ago.
Skipping between Superbike, Supersport and Superstock classes in that time, though O’Halloran has long been regarded one of BSB’s elite among those in the know, it hasn’t always been reflected in results.
Indifferent machinery during a long spell at Honda and a series of debilitating and painful injuries - including a broken femur, a broken leg, a broken back, and an injured shoulder - meant spells out of action or racing wounded, to such an extent it took until 2020 and 2021 for him to string two injury-free seasons together. Indeed, you can’t help but wince as he catalogues the breaks.
“It’s been wild! I had my first factory Superbike contract in 2015 (HM Plant Honda). I had done a lot of years in support classes, and I’ve had a lot of injuries along the way. When you look at the years that I’ve been in BSB, in 2015 I broke my femur. In 2016 I had a great year, scored loads of podiums, and won my first BSB race. In 2017 we had a new bike with Honda, which was a bit of a backwards step. In 2018 I broke my leg and my back. In 2019 I moved to Yamaha, dumped my shoulder.
“Then ’20 and ’21 were the first two consecutive years that I had without any major setbacks. I just sort of found my feet with the Yamaha. I really enjoyed it, really liked it. Loved working with the team.
“The 2020 season was the biggest step that we made, because I went from having one podium in 2019, got fit, got healthy, made a lot of changes in the off-season, came into 2020 and delivered pretty much straight away.”
It’s this arduous journey towards what looked like being a redemptive title win after so many years that gives the bitterness of his 2021 defeat an added kick, despite the tonic of getting to prove himself as champion material after eight seasons that had yielded a relatively meagre four wins prior to that.
“It was an exceptional year. It was a year that you can’t really believe I didn’t get the trophy, from how many wins and podiums I had.
“I won 11 races, I had 22 podiums by the end of the year. Then you look at the Showdown like, it wasn’t that good, but I still actually had three podiums in the showdown, which was more than a lot of people had all year.
“It was just the fact that Taz won races in the showdown, and Tommy (Bridewell) won races in the showdown. (Ed: Tommy Bridewell utilised Title Showdown to reduce a 145-point margin - equivalent of almost six wins - to 47 points and would end year four points ahead as runner-up)
“In any normal year, you would have had the championship. I made fewer mistakes than all of my competitors all year, but two of those mistakes were in the Showdown. There were 50 points on the table and Taz got 25 in one race, Tommy got 25 in another. Earlier in the year when I had won races and they crashed, they only lost five points to me.
“It was almost as though the punishment didn’t fit the crime at the end. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles and the way the championship works.”
Much ink has spilled over whether the Title Showdown format leans too far into robbing justified potential champions in the pursuit of spectacle, or to put more bluntly, ensure more spectators attend a grandstand finale, but this is the first time there has been such a discernible margin between the winner and highest points scorer.
Not that O’Halloran considers Mackenzie - his McAMS Yamaha team-mate since 2019 - an undeserving champion, but he has misgivings about whether BSB needs to engineer such a twist to potentially warp the results.
Introduced in 2010 in the wake of Leon Camier’s devastatingly dominant title win, the Title Showdown was designed to stop the title being effectively decided mid-season. It took until O’Halloran’s 2021 campaign for it to activate its primary objective, but while some might suggest ‘sour grapes’ on his part, the Australian contests he wouldn’t have commanded such an advantage without the Showdown to consider.
“I think the championship is strong enough to have a normal points system,” he continues.
“Obviously, people would disagree with that and say, “Yeah, but you had a 106-point lead, so maybe it’s not.” But again, if it was a normal point scoring system, would that lead have been that big? Would other riders have done things differently? There’s all different scenarios, but if you look at 2020, that’s the last time because of the shortened season we had a normal points scoring system.
“There were five people in the last race after 18 races that could still win the title. It’s not new. It’s been there for a while. I don't think it will change in the near future. That’s just what we’ve got to be a part of.
“It (just) seemed a hell of a lot of work. You’ve got a whole year of work to get to that point, then it sort of starts again. It doesn’t matter how good your first six months of work were.
“From a work perspective, it’s a little bit hard to take. But I think it will come back around. You either deal with it, accept it, go with it, or you leave. That’s the only option you have. You go and race somewhere else.
“But BSB is a good championship. I love being a part of it. It will take more than a showdown to shuffle me out.”
It’s a motivational mantra that O’Halloran fully intends to arm himself with for the season ahead
Indeed, going back to those threadbare sporting cliches, the measure of a champion isn’t determined by how you fall, it’s how you bounce back. O’Halloran is determined to do it with interest.
“The same stuff that’s got you down is the same stuff that fuels what you do. At the end of the day, the trophy is not sat in my office, it’s sat in my team-mate’s office. I can sit here, and I can say, yeah, but I won more races and I had more podiums, I had more points, and all the rest of it, but the reality is no-one cares.
“I have to come out this year and I have to do it all over again and try and win the trophy, try and get the championship. Don’t get me wrong. These situations are very unique because they don’t happen that often. When you get to the end of the year and you’ve done so well but you’re deflated, it’s not a normal scenario to be in.”
Adding spice to that simmering determination is the knowledge that he will spend a season eyeing that elusive #1 plate from within his own garage on his team-mate’s Yamaha R1.
“I’ve dealt with it now and processed it. Going into the new year, it’s just motivation. It either breaks you or makes you, and it’s going to make me because at the end of the day, I’ve got to look at the number one plate in the same garage as me.
“All the attention, all the coverage and everything is going to be on Taz. You’re the champion. Expectation is on you. You’re there to do what you need to do. You’ve got the number one plate on. Now I’m just going to work away, just going to do my thing.”
Shedding the past and building for the future is a process O’Halloran is well practised in but whereas recuperating has often been a physical one, this time he’s performing a mental recalibration.
But it is not to overcome the outcome of 2021, it’s instead to tap back into the fluidity that took him to the 11 wins that had rivals - ultimately - requiring an off-track intervention to beat him on-track.
“I think it would break a lot of people and it nearly broke me. It’s tough. It’s not easy. But I’m very lucky that I’ve got a great support network. I’ve been through a lot of much, much tougher things in my life with bad injuries and a lot of other things. I think once you make the transition from it getting you down to lifting you up and you start feeding off it, I think that’s when it changes.
“I feel fresher and more ready for this coming year than what I have done for the last five years. It’s really odd because if you had probably spoken to me two months ago, you’d think the complete opposite. Deflated, not really that up for it.
“Now, I’ve had a good break. I’ve had a good rest. I’m charged up and ready to rock and roll again.”
Time waits for no man, but the time might finally be now for O’Halloran.