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James Whitham: Has the Showdown finally run its course?

If you could apply that ridiculous acronym GOAT to races, then the Saturday British Superbike battle at Brands on would surely be in the mix. It was an exceptional race. You’d struggle to get one that had a better finish than the 2011 Hopkins/Hill battle even though, towards the end, you only had the pair of them.

But that’s all you needed because that was the championship right in front of your eyes decided by a tyre’s width on the last lap of the last race of the season. And 30,000 fans went mad as local boy Tommy Hill pipped MotoGP ace John Hopkins by 0.006 seconds.

However, the race on Saturday had more in terms of action because there were eight to ten riders all squeezed into a second and a half up front, with something going on just about every corner, even if it wasn’t a pass for the lead it was a pass for something. So, it was an exceptionally exciting race. The only thing it lacked, for me, which made it not as exciting as the Hill/Hopkins battle was the fact that it wasn’t for the championship.


But it was a corker and talking to Tommy Hill afterwards he said: “I think it was more exciting than my race with Hopper.” This from a man who has probably watched his 2011 race 1000 times, and which is acknowledged as the best finish in the history of the BSB championship.

One of the things this year that has been, I think, the best in terms of a championship is the depth of field. I don’t think we’ve ever had as many competitive riders on the grid. Somebody who is tenth one weekend could quite possibly win a race the following weekend.

You’ve got people like Kyle Ryde winning a round, and then be seventh the week after. Even the championship winner, Josh Brookes, hasn’t exactly dominated. He hasn’t won every single weekend. Glenn Irwin wins one weekend and then he can be down in sixth or seventh the next.

It’s a double-edged sword for a rider. We all really love being involved in an eight-bike battle for the win… but if you’re just slightly off your game or miss a gear or get a slide you end up at the back of the train.

So, the question I’m asked is: “Has the playing field been levelled really well or is there just no outstanding rider?”

Well, even Scott Redding, last year’s champion, didn’t totally dominate the series. The impressive thing about Scott was that he won a championship that most thought was going to be difficult for him to win because it meant him having to scratch his GP star arse off around tracks like Cadwell and Knockhill when he’d spent most of his career racing on the continent.

Learning a new circuit virtually every weekend with limited track time and a big target on his back can’t have been easy even with his talent, this is what made his performance last year outstanding, but in terms of points he didn’t run away with the championship, like for example Leon Camier. His dominance in 2009 was the main reason for the introduction of the Showdown system so a rider couldn’t run away with it and win the title with three rounds to go.

I don’t think there has been an outstanding rider this year, just lots of very good ones. The fact is it’s not so easy to win BSB rounds every weekend. Unless you’re absolutely on your game and your bike is perfectly set up for every circuit, it’s difficult to win. An ‘off’ weekend means you can easily find yourself battling down field because there are so many good riders and competitive machines.

Look at the stats: 18 races this year with seven different winners and four different manufacturers.


A couple of key elements have helped BSB be as close as it is. Firstly, the technical regulations are well worked out and have remained constant for a while now, so the teams know what they’re dealing with in terms of building a bike.

A BSB bike is in fact built to a very similar spec to a WorldSBK machine with one major difference. In WorldSBK each team can run whatever electronics packages they want so long as it is available to all other teams (should they choose to use it) and the cost of the hardware falls beneath a price ceiling. In BSB, the bikes must all use the same electronic hardware produced and supplied by Motec.

This ‘controlled ECU’ system gives the organisers loads more scope to not only level the performance of different bikes (usually by limiting revs) but also to limit what the teams can do electronically, especially in terms of rider aids. This reduces staffing and testing costs significantly.

The other thing that makes individual riders succeed at different weekends is the fact that they’re riding so many different circuits with completely different characteristics. So, you go to a circuit, let’s say Snetterton, which is completely different in nature to Brands Hatch. Brands is up, down, off-camber almost a roads-type track, compared to a flat ex-airfield type at Snetterton. So those different-natured circus favour different riders, and actually different bikes in some ways as well.


You’re never going to be able to recreate that at a world championship level. So, when people say, just make it the same formula for world superbike, and then we’ll have the same sort of tight championship, it’s not the case because we race at so many odd-ball type circuits in the UK.

And if you thought next year’s championship was going to be as competitive as the one, we have just seen then you probably think we don’t need the Showdown system. My opinion is (but it’s not my decision) that if they took a good hard look at who is going to be in that championship next year and the bikes, they’re on, (essentially very similar to this year) the Showdown is probably unnecessary.

Many people think it’s unfair, others think it’s better to have an exciting end to the season, even if it’s engineered rather than have a rider dominate and wrap the job up with a couple of rounds to go, but should a rider be handicapped for being better than the rest ?

Look at MotoGP recently. It’s going through a purple patch. Twenty-five years ago, although the racing at the front was good, it looked like as a class it was on its last legs with 13 or 14 bikes on the grid and only four or five of them competitive with a rider who could tame it. At the same time Superbikes had packed grids and were routinely getting loads more people through the gates.

Of course, MotoGP has been helped this year by the absence of Marc Marquez, but the racing is good and Dorna, with the co-operation of the manufacturers, have made it really equal without making it like Moto2. Which gives cracking racing largely because the bikes are all very similar. The engines are all the same, so they all have the same power, the weight is set. The components you can build their bike from are controlled. The tyres are strictly controlled. Is that what we want for a world championship class? Maybe it is.

I think that if you thought a championship without the Showdown was going to go down to the last race, there’s no way you’d have a Showdown. But that doesn’t happen sometimes. Sometimes you get a rider dominating for whatever reason.

Generally, it’s because that rider is the best rider, and he’ll clear off in the championship and win it with three rounds to go. Then that kind of takes the sting out at the end of the championship. The Showdown is primarily so that people would still pay their hard-earned money to go and watch the races live at the end of a championship instead of it being a bit of a damp squib because somebody has already won it.

In that respect, Stuart Higgs (series director) has done his job in BSB. You don’t need it every year, but you don’t know when those years are going to be. So, you’ve got to go with it if you’re going to do it the beginning of the season. What I would say is at the outset of a season as a rider sat on the grid at round one, you have no idea whether that format is going to favour you or not.

I remember that one of the biggest critics of the Showdown format was Shane Byrne when he was riding. He said it wasn’t fair. It should be who accrued the most points should win the championship, and a lot of people agreed with him. Then he injured himself at Cadwell. He injured his shoulder really quite badly, and because of the Showdown system he was able to miss a round and not really be penalized for it because he was already well in front.

He wasn’t going to drop out of that top six, so he was still able to fight for the championship and I think he actually still won it. So, you don’t know as a rider whether it’s going to be unfair in your favour or unfair against you.

But I don’t think we will need it in 2021 and this is largely because, setting Brookes aside as the Champion, BSB has many good riders on equal machinery but no one who has been outstanding over any length of time.

But there were people who really impressed me in at various times. Kyle Ryde really impressed me a couple of times this year. Glenn Irwin. His aggression and his will to win, was impressive, Taz Mac was brilliant at on his day, O’Halloran was fast as were Christian Iddon, Andy Irwin, Tommy Bridewell and others.

Another rider who impressed me this year was Britain’s fastest plumber Lee Jackson. You may see him as a bit of a journeyman and you’d probably have a point, but you can chuck the kid on anything and he’d go fast.

He went a bit under most people’s radar this year coz he mostly made bad starts, but generally had top five and sometimes even podium pace and rarely falls off. Good value if you’re running a team. Plus, he’d fit you a new bathroom and service your boiler. Bargain…

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