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Shift up: Tommy Bridewell to Honda and other bold BSB career moves

Impact Images
Tommy Bridewell, BeerMonster Ducati, Ducati Panigale V4 R, 2023 BSB, Oulton Park, portrait [Impact Images]

Call us grinches, but we’re already soooo over Christmas already.

Yep, we may be less than two weeks into the dreaded motorsport-less off-season but we’re already itching to get racing again… and drowning our sorrows with excessive daily mince pie consumption just isn’t working.

We’re going to blame Tommy Bridewell though because his shock decision to quit the Paul Bird Motorsport team he just won his first (long awaited) British Superbike Championship title with and defect to Honda Racing has us champing at the bit to see how he fares in 2024.

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Indeed - compared with MotoGP and WorldSBK - it’s fair to say that BSB isn’t exactly known for surprise winter swaps of team. Sure, unexpected names appear from other series’ and underperformers are often dropped or hired elsewhere, but few have changed direction when the going is good.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen though, as these examples testify to…

Tommy Bridewell, Honda Racing, 2024 BSB, portrait [Honda Racing]

Tommy Bridewell 

2024 - Paul Bird Ducati to Honda Racing

It’s not often you get a newly-crowned Champion openly choosing to step away from a title-winning formula, but Tommy Bridewell will indeed break the mould in 2024 by taking his #1 plate over to Honda Racing instead.

While circumstances revolving around Paul Bird Motorsport is likely to go some way to explaining the about turn in direction, perhaps the most surprising thing about Bridewell’s move to Honda is it brings his association with Ducati to a conclusion.

In a career that at times has been stuttered by him swapping bikes all too regularly, it seemed Bridewell had found his forever home after five and a half (very lucrative) years riding Ducati machinery.

How Bridewell fares going back to an inline-four remains to be seen, but judging by Honda’s multi-faceted, multi-talented line-up across all disciplines for 2024, it looks like the Devizes man won’t be short of resources or effort.

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Ryuichi Kiyonari

2014 - Honda Racing to Buildbase BMW

Now, Bridewell’s move from PBM Ducati to Honda might have been unexpected, but it’s nothing compared with the bombshell that came in 2014 upon learning that Ryuichi Kiyonari was leaving Honda for Buildbase (Hawk Racing).

A product of Honda’s domestic rider development programmes, while Kiyonari never quite broke through as a MotoGP rider, an inspired decision to syphon him to BSB to head up Honda’s efforts in the UK was a huge success.

Between 2004 and 2013, Kiyonari clinched three BSB titles and won 43 races on Honda machinery, plus three wins on the WorldSBK stage with Ten Kate Racing.  In short, it was long assumed that if you were to think of Kiyonari, you’d also be thinking of Honda. 

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That was until he made the shock decision to not only join privateer outfit Hawk Racing (under the Buildbase banner) for the 2014 BSB season, but switch to BMW machinery as well.

If the move was surprising, then that was nothing compared with Kiyonari’s speed on the S 1000 RR, the Japanese rider proving as fast as ever to mount a surprise bid for a fourth title.

In the end he couldn’t dislodge Shane Byrne from his perch, but seven wins and the runners-up spot proved what could be achieved with a little ‘outside box thinking’.

Josh Brookes

2011 - Honda Racing to Relentless Suzuki

Of all the top-line riders competing in BSB, Josh Brookes has certainly been the boldest with his career decisions over the past 15 years.

A two-time BSB title winner with different manufacturers (Yamaha and Ducati), we could have included Brookes’ recent switch to FHO Racing BMW from PBM Ducati in this ranking here.

Instead though we’re going back to 2010-2011 to reminisce about Brookes surprise move from HM Plant Honda - with whom he’d just finished runner-up in 2010 - to Relentless TAS Racing Suzuki for 2011.

Indeed, while many had Brookes pegged as a title favourite with Honda for 2011, Brookes’ decision to take a punt on Suzuki seemed like a missed opportunity for the Australian. 

Whether it was or not we’ll never know, but while he came close in the three years he spent with Suzuki, it would take another bold step over to Yamaha for Brookes to eventual secure that elusive first crown in 2015.

Glenn Irwin, BeerMonster Ducati, Ducati Panigale V4 R, 2023 BSB, Cadwell Park, action [credit - Tim Keeton Impact Images]

Glenn Irwin

2023 - Honda Racing to Paul Bird Ducati

There are a fair few good reasons to explain why Glenn Irwin joined Paul Bird Motorsport for the 2023 BSB season, not least the nostalgia of him rejoining the team with which he made his BSB debut back in 2016.

However, many were surprised to see him do so by departing the cosy confines of the factory Honda Racing UK team just as the relationship appeared to be gathering momentum.

A head-turning debut on Honda’s new Fireblade in 2020 helped put a torrid 2019 campaign with Quattro Plant Kawasaki firmly behind him and was followed by Irwin making his much anticipated Isle of Man TT debut with the manufacturer in 2022.

However, just as it appeared Honda and Irwin were priming to be a force for 2023 on both short circuit and the roads, the Ulsterman jumped ship to PBM Ducati.

Tommy Bridewell, Supersonic Racing, BMW S 1000 RR [Impact Images]

Tommy Bridewell

2010 - Supersonic Racing BMW

Strictly speaking, Bridewell’s decision to join Supersonic Racing didn’t come as a result of him switching teams per se, but the circumstances around one of BSB’s most unlikely pairings still deserves a mention here.

Quite why the Italian-based Supersonic Racing opted for BSB (rather than the CIV Italian Superbike series) upon exiting the WorldSBK Championship at the end of the 2011 season is still not clear, but it was indeed present and correct in readiness for 2012.

Unfortunately for Supersonic, its original rider choice of Anthony West was not, the Australian ducking out of the team in the days leading up to the opening round of the season. 

In his place came Bridewell, who belied the eleventh hour call-up, the language barrier and the team’s lack of experience racing in the UK to prove instantly competitive on the unfancied privateer BMW S 1000 RR.

It was a trend he’d maintain throughout the year, Bridewell and Supersonic exceeding expectations to take both himself and the team all the way to the top six Title Showdown.

While Supersonic Racing didn’t stick around for 2013, it’s not over-exaggerating to suggest it was the year that transformed Bridewell’s career in BSB… and the rest is (a whole lotta) history.

Bradley Ray

2020 - Suzuki Racing to TAS Racing BMW

Few riders make their BSB debuts surrounded by as much excitement as Bradley Ray did upon making his ‘big bike’ bow in 2017.

Given his break by Stuart Hicken, who placed him on a satellite Hawk Racing-prepared Suzuki, the teenager became one of the revelations of the season, before Ray then emphasised his burgeoning status as the ‘next big thing’ in 2018 with two wins and a run to the Title Showdown.

Causing his stock to soar within Suzuki itself, the manufacturer went as far as rewarding his efforts with a surprise MotoGP test outing, while there was also talk of it mounting a return to WorldSBK with Ray at the fore.

However, the attention would leave Ray feeling under pressure and disillusioned, so when 2019 turned out to be a lacklustre season on the ageing Gixxer, he took control of his career with a switch to TAS Racing BMW for 2020.

While his fortunes on BMW machinery - either with TAS Racing in 2020 or OMG Racing in 2021 - weren’t much better, it at least set him on a course for the OMG Racing Yamaha R1 he’d take all the way to the title in 2022.

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