Next year there is going to be a showdown in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship but not as we are used to.
The series is moving away from the violence hinted at by that great ELO offering of the seventies and back towards Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” There will still be a shootdown of a sorts but less like a football match decided by penalties, but via a more generous points system which will give riders a better chance of clinching the title in the final three races at Brands Hatch.
The current system - introduced a billion years ago in lower league football as playoffs in order to get a result from too many games ending in draws - was to inject more drama in the last two or three rounds of our sport as teams and riders fought to be included in the Showdown or lose out before the series had ended.
That was in 2010 and was a response to Leon Camier winning the 2009 title with 19 race wins and four to spare. The change was not universally welcomed by those in the paddock but entertainment was the priority of promoters MSVR and they certainly got it the following year at the Brands Hatch finale when Tommy Hill beat John Hopkins by 0.006s.
The past year saw dramatic change and led to many people saying a Showdown was not required as the winner, Brad Ray, was odds-on favourite half a dozen races out when likely contenders suffered from accidents, especially at Oulton Park.
A re-think took place and changes were made. Teams and riders were consulted although it has to be said that in the entertainment business, they are less important than the paying public whether they be attendees or viewers.
So, what is the view of James Whitham of whether the points gained in the three various phases of races is just too complicated for the viewers and spectators.
Whitham: It isn’t that complicated. It changes more often but there are only two distinct changes during the season as opposed to one but in terms of understanding it all you’ve got to know is the different points and the gap between them which ramps up as the season goes on.
In the main season it is going to be difficult for anyone to run away with it because you’re only gaining a couple of points between first, second and third and only one point after that. Then you’ve got a couple of rounds where there is a bigger gap and finally the last round where there is a reasonably big gap between first and third. What it all means is that a rider is unlikely to clear off during the season.
What you’ve also got to look at is since the Showdown came into operation BSB has become much more competitive and in that respect, it should be a tighter championship anyway and this should make it more likely to run towards the end of the season. So, having thought about this, I think it will be alright.
BSN: Do you think that spectators and viewers will be able to keep up with what the points situation is?
Whitham: Yeah, it is going to be at least as easy for us trying to explain to people as it was in the last half of the main season that a lot of riders are not racing for proper points because it’s only podium points that matter. It is going to take less getting your head round than the Showdown podium type thing we’ve had.
BSN: But there has been some pretty close racing, Tommy Hill and John Hopkins being an example.
Whitham: Yes, but it hasn’t always happened with a system which was designed to make it happen every year which is hasn’t. There has been a couple of proper bomb-outs, one of them was when Leon Haslam was challenging Shakey in the final round but fell off and then there was Ryuichi Kiyonari who fought his way back into contention
over the whole season on the Buildbase BMW, was favourite to win and then broke his collarbone in practice. Job done.
So, it doesn’t always have the desired effect. Yes, the Hill/Hopkins thing was a good one, but tight finishes do happen elsewhere. I think we’re alright.”
BSN: There are those who blame the Showdown for making riders try too hard and fall off with some quoting Oulton Park which is a great circuit but with one or two tricky chicanes.”
Whitham: I don’t buy that people only try when there is a championship at stake because, by definition, you’re implying that people don’t try at other times. When I was club racing, I was quite prepared to stick my neck out and fall down with nothing on offer. If you’re racing, I think most people are prepared to stick their neck out at any point so I don’t buy that.
BSN: But there were one or two incidents which were slightly surprising because they involved very experienced riders who you would not ever accuse of riding dangerously. What was happening there?
Whitham: A little bit the nature of the circuit but perhaps largely because it was getting towards the end of the season and they were perhaps trying hard for all sort of reasons, thinking of a ride for next year, for example. I don’t think it was much to do with the circuit as such.
That said we race on some circuits in the UK that are different from many of the championship circuits in the world. I see that as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. And in this case because one or two of the incidents involved the same blokes it made it look worse.
BSN: Looking to next season it seems likely that two of our best riders will be moving to the World Superbike paddock. This season’s winner Brad Ray is certain and now that Taz Mackenzie has quit the McAMS Yamaha team there are strong rumours that he will, be going the same way. Who do you think of the younger riders has a chance of winning?
Whitham: First of all, I know that Stuart Higgs runs a brilliant show and is the best race director in the world. However, in my opinion, thinking that everything is going to keep going in BSB is, in my opinion, slightly short-sighted.
Now you don’t want to change the whole grid year by year because people don’t have time to associate with a particular rider. But you also need a bit of turnover and a natural is riders moving on to world championship racing.
There are three, including Rory Skinner, moving on and there are three very good seats which have been filled in which is brilliant. But unless you’re going to get a natural turnover of riders coming through it is going to get a bit stale. The Peter Hickmans and Tommy Bridewells are not going to make it stale, but we need newcomers and a natural way of making it work.
BSN: It is not Stuart Higgs’ job to breed riders for Dorna. They’re not stopping it, but their interest is in the success of BSB.
Whitham: I agree. Their business is running a series and making money. The rider’s business is to make himself a living so that when he retires at 32 or 34 or 36, which he will, he has bought himself a house and has a bit to rest back on. It’s unfair to assume that these people will simply clock in and clock out.
If someone came up to you and offered a better job, what would you do? It’s natural, it’s normal and it’s healthy. It’s a business for some and a business for others. You cannot expect people not to look after themselves before anybody else, that’s business.
BSN: But money, and everybody wants to make it, comes with success and if you’re not successful you’re unlikely to make much money.
Whitham: Yes, but that was the traditional way of getting someone to go to a meeting. Guess what they did? They paid them. And you went because you wanted the money.
Now they get paid by the team and teams are a lot more important because bikes are a lot more technical, you need staff and other things to be competitive. The way to get people to do things is still paying them.
I’d hate you to think I’m doing anyone a dis-service, I’m not. Stuart runs a brilliant show, we all love it and that’s why people go and watch it. There are more people watching BSB on TV than MotoGP or World
Superbikes. So, a little bit of turnover is not detrimental to this championship.