History was made at Brands Hatch last weekend as MotoGP-exile Scott Redding reminded everyone just how good he is by winning the 2019 British Superbike Championship at the first attempt – becoming the first rider to celebrate a title victory in his debut season…
Was it one of the best ever? Probably. It went to the wire, and was decided by just five points in the end. There was drama – see Andrew Irwin taking out Redding, twice, or Tarran Mackenzie barging his way past teammate Jason O’Halloran to take his first BSB win (only to be stripped of it later). There was intrigue – could Redding transfer that MotoGP experience to win at Knockhill? While rookies impressed, big names struggled, and the racing was as close as ever.
Silverstone was the scene of the opening bout, and for the second year in a row it took place on the smaller National circuit, which was used in 2018 after the drainage issues the circuit faced during the MotoGP weekend. Yet with last year’s round delivering some spectacular racing, the layout was picked again for the season-opener.
The Yamaha duo of O’Halloran and Mackenzie were coming into the weekend brimming with confidence; a productive preseason had them consistently at the top of the time sheets, and that form translated to race one.
On course for a one-two finish – the dream as any team manager – the series bosses must have been rubbing their hands together when Mackenzie forced it to fit at Luffield on the final lap. The youngster maintains there was a gap, and we’ll never know just how big (or small) it was, but it was small enough for O’Halloran to think otherwise. Down he went as they made contact, leaving Mackenzie to take his first BSB win. O’Halloran, on the other hand, was busy remonstrating in the gravel, and the 2019 series launched with controversy, with social media alive with opinions and discussions.
Josh Elliot, circulating in a very impressive third as a rookie on the OMG Racing Suzuki inherited the runner-up spot, before promptly being promoted again to race-winner, as Mackenzie was slapped with a three second penalty for his actions. Redding claimed third to take a podium on his debut.
His PBM Ducati teammate, 2015 champion Josh Brookes, suffered a nightmare first outing. An engine blowing in qualifying left him 18th on the grid. On the cusp of the top-six in the race, he retired with an electrical problem.
Race two, more drama to get the fans and pundits salivating. Brookes again retired, while fellow Aussie O’Halloran also carded another DNF. Mackenzie finally collected the win he deserved, while Elliot was second. Kawasaki-man Danny Buchan was third, but all eyes were on Redding and Honda’s Irwin.
Passing into the left at Brooklands, Irwin lined up his entry into the long right at Luffield, but as he drifted across the track Redding was still hanging on in there. The contact saw Redding crash out and Irwin receive a long-lap penalty. It was the start of a bitter feud.
Onto Oulton and Brookes kick-started his season; pole and two race wins getting his year on track. A brace of runner-up finishes also set the tone for the rest of Tommy Bridewell’s season. Also V4 Ducati-mounted, Bridewell would embark on a season of consistency that was only missing more wins to give him the best shot of the title.
A repeat podium in both races was completed by Buchan, but a lot of talk was about Redding. While Silverstone was familiar, and a track he’s more used to from his Grand Prix days – wide, fast, smooth – Oulton was his first taste of a ‘quirky Britsh track’ as so many commentators put it. And yet he impressed hugely with a fourth and a fifth.
Back on familiar turf and the first of the year’s triple-headers, Redding tasted BSB victory for the first time at Donington Park – the scene of his maiden GP win in 125s in 2008. He came through to dispense with Bridewell, Mackenzie, O’Halloran, and Honda’s Xavi Fores. His teammate though, Brookes, suffered a monster highside after leading the early stages. It was turning into an up and down year – literally – for Brookes. Mackenzie was second, ex-World Superbike front-runner Fores, third.
Redding went two for two on the Sunday to make it a clean sweep, as he began to stamp his authority on the championship.
What was starting to become evident was the effectiveness of Ducati’s V4R. Brookes – competitive yet unlucky at Silverstone, took both wins at Oulton. Redding took three at Donington, before Brookes scored another two at Brands Hatch. The age of the winglet was here, and the big red Ducati won seven on the bounce.
But while Brooke was flying, Redding was floundering. Opting for intermediates (still no one knows why) on a wet track that never really dried, he came home in 22nd. However, to be fair, Redding did set the fastest lap of the race to start race two from pole. In the dry affair, he finished third, completing an all-Ducati podium behind Brookes and Bridewell.
“He might go well at places like Silverstone and Assen, but you wait until he gets to Knockhill.” was a common answer if you asked someone whether Redding could win the title this year. Unfortunately for the naysayers, Redding backed up a podium in race one with the win in race two. Turns out he is the real deal.
Buchan won the first race, his first ever BSB win, and deservedly so, with Fores also taking an unexpected podium in third. Buildbase Suzuki’s Bradley Ray had suffered a dismal start to the year, but sixth was his best result of the year so far. But a blowup in race two curtailed any enthusiasm, and brought out the red flags. Redding was victorious, homeboy Mackenzie second, and Bridewell third. It was also the end of Keith Farmer’s season, the Tyco BMW rider breaking both legs.
Snetterton marked the halfway stage of the season, and the results were a fitting reflection of the general shape of the championship; Redding did the double, Brookes was twice second, and Mackenzie and Bridewell shared a third each.
While the main narrative of the season was now set – smart money was on the two PBM Ducati teammates duking it out for the title with Bridewell in a supporting role, ready to pounce on any mistake – there were plenty of subplots playing their part too.
O’Halloran was doing his best, it seemed, to race to the back-end of the points after a strong start to the year, while last year’s hotshot Ray was struggling to make the top-10. Ryan Vickers – who jumped from a superstock 600 machine straight to a superbike – was impressing when he could stay upright, Buchan finally looked like he’d make the move to superbikes stick, after yo-yoing from stock and back in the past, and was fighting at the front more often than he wasn’t. Mackenzie’s early season form had also dropped off, with a few crashes denting confidence and bones, and Glenn Irwin, who had had a couple of strong seasons with PBM Ducati on the V-twin Panigale, was struggling big time with the ZX-10R Kawasaki. So much so that he jacked it in, and jumped on the S1000RR left vacant by Farmer.
The second half of the season started at Thruxton, and threw up another first time winner. After Mackenzie, Elliot, Buchan, and of course, Redding, had taken their debut wins, Andrew Irwin raced his Honda Fireblade to victory, taking the flag in race on two tenths up on Redding and Brookes.
Drama, again, befell the championship in race two. First, argy-bargy, notably between Irwin and Peter Hickman got the juices flowing, complete with hand gesture from the pair of them. Glenn Irwin, after taking a solid 11th on his BMW debut in race one, set fire to the thing in race two, crashing at the chicane, resulting in the second red flag (the first was for rain).
In the ensuing eight-lap dash, Redding cut the chicane. He held his hand up, and slotted in behind his rivals. However, he was handed a long-lap penalty for his sins, which he failed to take, resulting in a post-race ‘ride through penalty’ or 15-second time penalty. He was credited with last place, and not the second he felt he should have had.
Brookes won from Irwin, who snatched what was the runner-up spot on the line from TT supremo Hickman.
The Mountain beckoned as the BSB circus headed to Cadwell Park. A return to form for Ray saw him qualify on the front row, before a technical issue on the warm up lap for race one left him disappointed. Buchan took his second career win from Brookes and Bridewell.
More drama made the headlines in race two, as again social media erupted following a coming together between Andrew Irwin and Redding. Well, coming together, straight-up torpedo, you decide. But Irwin came from so far back into Park that Redding had absolutely no idea he was there. They skittled into the run-off and Redding lost his head. Clearly upset, his voice reached notes Mariah Carey couldn’t and he let fly at Irwin.
Back on the asphalt, Brookes bettered Bridewell and Buchan. But no one remembers that, the stories were all about the incident.
A second visit to Oulton Park was last-chance-saloon for some riders to make the coveted Showdown, with three races to do it in. Brookes won the first, as Ray showed his front row at Cadwell – and indeed 2018 performances – was no fluke and finished second. Redding was third.
Redding won the second, leading an all Ducati podium ahead of Brookes and Bridewell, before Bridewell finally took his first win of the year, beating Ray and Redding as Brookes crashed out.
Buchan secured his Showdown spot behind the three Ducatis that were already confirmed, along with Mackenzie and Hickman.
The Showdown, then. Three rounds, seven races, and a carefully constructed format to make the points artificially close. But it looked like it was going to backfire. Redding doubled up at Assen and at Donington to go into the final round with a 28-point lead. If Brookes was to win all three, three thirds would still be enough for the MotoGP podium-finisher.
And that’s almost exactly as it played out. Bridewell finished in between Brookes and Redding in race one at Brands Hatch, but with the result he was mathematically omitted from the championship running, his cause not aided by a crash at Assen.
Redding finished second in race two after a ding-dong with Brookes, with Bridewell third, before nursing his V4R home to third in race three, and with the result clinching the title by five points, after Brookes won from Bridewell.
How do you analyse it, then? Well, it shows that those running around in MotoGP, even in the lower positions, are no mugs. Redding had no prior experience of the tracks, superbikes, his rivals, and, really, made it look almost easy. Of course, he won’t say that, but he was knocked off twice, made a bad tyre call once, and was (arguably) unfairly punished at Thruxton. He was a deserved champion.
That’s not doing Brookes a disservice. He had his share of bad luck too, but was consistently fast as everyone expected him to be. He’s won it before, let’s not forget.
Man of the year though? One has to stake a claim for Bridewell. Everyone knew he was good – he’s won races before in BSB – but he put together a proper championship, he just missed a tiny bit to take more wins.
Although, one could argue it really shows the strength of the new Ducati. It filled the championship podium positions. You have to wonder if anyone else will opt to run one next year. Price, though, may be the limiting factor.
Who disappointed the most? Certainly Suzuki and Ray. He won races last year, had numerous poles and podiums, and looked to be the real deal. Glenn Irwin has to be on the list too.
There were a couple who flew under the radar, too. Christian Iddon, remember him? He didn’t notch a single podium this year (although he did win the ‘riders’ cup’ which no one cares about, including him) but when you go back and look at the results, he wasn’t far away. He had a bit of a mid-season lull and a few crashes, but he was quietly competitive for the top-six.
Hickman, too, was his usual impervious self on the roads, but the new BMW took a bit of time to get up to speed, and he didn’t quite trouble the front-runners as much as he’d have liked.
There are bound to be some moves in the off-season, but we already can’t wait to see what 2020 brings. Someone has to replace Redding at PBM, and rumour has it Fores is off too. And standby by for some Bike Devil MV Agusta, news, too. It should be a good year!
Log On, Tune In, Ride Out……