The changes to the scoring system for the 2023 British Superbike Championship received a mixed reception when announced some 12months ago, but the 40,000 or so fans pouring out of Brands Hatch a week ago were in no doubt it had resulted in some of the best racing they had ever seen.
Was it that the system, designed to keep the championship open until the end had worked; just the season long battle between PBM team-mates Glenn Irwin and Tommy Bridewell; or just something that happened?
Having seen and competed in more races than most of us have had good dinners, James Whitham is not a man easily impressed and his judgement is worth paying attention to... so what does he think in his expert opinion?
Well, for me the last race was on a par with 2011 when Tommy Hill and John 'Hopper' Hopkinsr had that big beat up for the championship. It was as good as that.
One thing I did like about this year was that it was more of a first past the post points system. So it had more of a natural feel to it in terms that it came down to this because of what happened, not because of anything not directly related.
The Title Showdown worked a few times to ensure exciting racing and I get why they did it. It served it’s purpose but I think if you can get more of an across the whole season points system which actually works as well as it did this year, you don’t need anything else.
I thought the racing was really good and though I didn’t really have a particular favourite that I wanted to win, I thought the star of the show in that last round was Kyle Ryde. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Kyle, it would have allowed Tommy just to follow his team-mate home and win the championship. Because Kyle kept getting stuck in it made it more difficult for them two so they had to press on and it made it a good race.
I gather there were eight lead changes during that race, pretty remarkable!
There were eight championship changes during that race.Now that is amazing isn’t it?
It’s good to hear you giving some credit to Kyle. He did very well and must have thought he had a chance of winning that race. He certainly did a hell of a job keeping the other two on their toes and making it a good race. And if you had to say who do you think deserved it do you think it was Tommy?”
As I said before it is a system where your performance throughout the season counts for the championship, so you’d have to say that Tommy, yes, did deserve the championship. That’s not to say that if it had gone the other way I wouldn’t have said Glenn deserved the title.
He had the best part, the middle part of the season, and I think Tommy had a really good start to the season - at one point he had a 40 point lead over Glenn. Either of them deserved to win.
Even if Kyle or Leon Haslam had come from behind and nicked it at the last minute, I think I would have said they deserved it. All of them had bits of bad luck across the season so they could all have
won it and deserved it. In conclusion, you can say the system has worked fairly well.
In their interviews after the last race both Glenn and Tommy were asked about their battles on the track which on occasion resulted in heated exchanges. Not unusual for ‘team-mates’ but both went out of their way to be complimentary about each other. Is it possible for ‘nice’ people to win championships or friendly with the man you most want to beat?
Yes, of course. I have never agreed with the theory that you have got to be a bastard to do well. I think you have got to be reasonably selfish to be any kind of sports person because it takes dedication, time, practice, training, gym work and all the rest of it to put yourself in a position to be as good as you can be.
But that is not to say that if you have got 50 people and give them all the same amount of training and opportunities etc. one would always be better than the other for whatever reason. I don’t agree with the theory you have to be some kind of bad person to win. Some really nice guys win championships.”
Let’s move on to a nice guy - Lee Jackson. He is someone you have been a fan of for sometime. He is now going to another team, away from Cheshire Mouldings FS-3 Racing, to join Hawk Racing alongside up and coming Charlie Nesbitt on a Honda.
I can’t understand why they have let him go. Taking his place at FS-3 will be Jason O’Halloran leaving the now closed McAms and Yamaha. What do you make of it?”
Well, Lee Bob had a fairly steady start to the season given his record of always performing quite well. He has won two rounds and he is a safe pair of hands, not crashing a lot. Generally, he is always in the mix an d you can rely on him for that. He had a bad start to this season, had a few different things with the bike and lost a bit of confidence in the new swing arm they tried.
I don’t know what’s gone on, he’s been there a few years and maybe a change was a good idea. Is he ever going to win a championship, I don’t know. But perhaps I didn’t expect Tommy to win one for ten years either! Maybe it’ll work out well for both parties.
FS-3 are a great team. I get on really well with Nigel and Darren and maybe they felt they needed a change, the theory being that if you keep doing the same things you get the same results. And maybe it might work for Lee Bob himself as he might go better on the Honda which might give him more of a chance for the championship.”
Jason is clearly one hell of a good rider. He is, of course, almost in the veteran stage, has been around a long time and has never won the championship although always a contender.
Lee Bob is much younger than him and does show a lot of promise. The people making these decisions are not stupid and I think he is quite a good signing for the Hawk team and the experienced Hicken family.
I think he is a really good signing for Hawk and I think he’ll get on quite well with the Honda but that’s not to say that I disagree with the decision of FS-3. If they felt they needed a change they couldn’t have got much of a better rider than Jason.
He has always been quick, he has won rounds this year and when he’s on form he can destroy the field and we’ve seen this happen a couple of times this year and on other occasions. He still seems to have a lot of pace even though he is a bit older the Lee Bob. So I can’t see anything wrong with either.
Looking forward to next year, as we are, would there be any changes to the series that you think should be made. There have been quite a lot of changes for the year just over but is there anything which might make it even better and/or even more competitive?
I think they’ve got a championship which is very competitive and we’ve seen just about every make of bike winning although it’s been pretty much dominated by Ducati and Yamaha. But Leon made the BMW look competitive, Lee Bob made the Kawasaki look competitive and we’ve had a rookie on a Honda, Charlie Nesbitt, not far from the podium a couple of times - in fact he’s been on the podium at Thruxton for example.
Do we need changes? We saw occasions when the Ducati seemed to have an advantage on speed and we saw that coming out of the bottom hairpin at Knockhill.
But is it as stable and nice as the Yamaha through the corners? Possibly not if you believe what the riders say now and again! Going forward they are trying to address it by having this new ‘pathway’ to Superbike where you can run what is essentially a modified stock ‘thou’ machine in the Superbike class.
One of the things they are going to have to do and I think it would have to be at world level as well as BSB is cost because it’s becoming ever more and increasingly expensive as years go by.
That possibly needs looking at but the one thing I would say about the BSB organisers and certainly Higgsy (Stuart Higgs) and Scott Smart. They have been pro-active at introducing new rules which they believe they’re going to need. I’m assuming they’re not resting on their laurels and will have looked at it.
But the problems with Superbikes is two-fold, and this is not me complaining. In WorldSBK they have the luxury of not gong to the circuits they don’t feel are fit for bikes with as much power as they’ve got now.
In BSB, however, we have got a limited number of circuits and we can’t just stop going to the ones where the bikes in years from now will have outgrown. So they have to think about that but for next year not a lot of immediate changes are necessary.
But it is interesting that they have withdrawn from Silverstone, a traditional British circuit, and I guess they have made that decision unless Silverstone are not prepared to pay the money. The opening round next year will be at the Spanish Circuito de Navarro used for a lot of testing and owned by MSVR.”
The one thing I would say about Silverstone, and there is obviously a cost to putting BSB on, is that that it never seems to get a lot of people going to watch. For all that we’ve had 40 and 50 thousand to some BSB meetings Silverstone never attracts a big crowd. So maybe the decision is not just politics as finances. But I haven’t looked into it so I don’t know and can’t comment.”
But the cost of racing which we’ve just touched on when talking about Superbikes and Superstocks is an issue which seems to be troubling sponsors and owners as economies of countries have shrunk causing less to be spent on marketing.
And this presumably is the reason why one or two have dropped out of BSB. Somewhat concerning because if you can get 40,000 at Brands Hatch it shows that something is being done right and money can be made.
I think things are becoming a bit more expensive and we’re in a time when money seems to be tighter in general, cost of living has gone up and people aren’t generally doing as well. This is not me doling out gloom and gloom.
As far as I can see and hope, we’re still gong to have PBM in the championship, it will still be as competitive in terms of machinery and there will be at least six or seven of these ‘pathway’ machines on the grid so I am reserving judgement for 2024.”
And finally as there’s a big shortage of British riders in the world championship events, with two or three notable exceptions, will we be losing any riders to WorldSBK?
I haven’t heard any rumours of riders from this year’s BSB going off to World Championships. And sometimes it is a lot more difficult than you think, one of the reasons being that there are so many good riders at MotoGP level in both MotoGP and Moto2 that the eyes of the managers at WorldSBK level don’t look at national championships as much as they used to.
It used to be BSB, American and Australian nationals, occasionally Japan, for their next riders. It’s a very efficient feeder system that MotoGP have now right from national and European Talent Cups through to Moto3 and then Moto2.
It works so well that if you don’t perform fairly quickly you’re a refugee without a ride in the MotoGP paddock and what you look at then is the WSBK paddock.