With the Bennetts British Superbike and WorldSBK seasons now well into the second half and championships still to be decided, the guessing game of who is going to be riding what next year is in full flow.
The paddock at Silverstone and yesterday at Catalunya was certainly full of rumours and who better to guess what is going on behind closed doors than Eurosport pundit and ex-racer James Whitham.
“It’s typical for this time of year, people start talking as early as possible to other teams, if they’re not happy, and their own teams.
“Stories get out, some have no legs at all and others make your think ‘Hmm, that might work’. We did hear a rumour about the Scott Redding move to BMW some three weeks before it happened. That was a strong one that came to pass. Some do some don’t.
“The current rumour is that Paul Bird is going to have a complete change around. Now I want it to be understood that this is a rumour and I don’t have any inside information on this. But will he be joined by Tom Sykes, who was at Silverstone with his two lovely daughters, or even Leon Haslam?
“Leon has said he would like to stay at Honda who are looking for a successor to Bautista, now returning to Ducati, although nothing is finalised. So what of Josh Brookes who scraped in to the BSB showdown at Silverstone but hasn’t had the best of seasons.
“I heard that Josh was talking to FHO, the BMW team financed by Faye Ho, which has seen some podium places via Peter Hickman. And if it was the case that Birdy was having a complete change then that leaves Christian Iddon in the middle of no man’s land but you’d employ Christian any day because he’s a hard working lad and a good rider.”
BSN: What do you think, by the way, of Taz Mackenzie? The performance of those two Yamaha riders at Silverstone was amazing really considering their injuries. He’s young, the kind of rider WSBK would like to have?
JW: Well, Michael Laverty is now managing him which is a good thing. Taz isn’t as young as he used to be, he’s 24 or 25 now, so he’ll be anxious to get onto the world stage. Speed wise, he’s got it. The circuits he suffers with in Britain are ones you just don’t get on the Continent, like Oulton and Cadwell. They’re all much of a muchness. I think he’d be a good candidate but one question is whether Dorna would want an other Brit in the championship.
BSN: Well, we all like to speculate. Rumours are rumours, some put about deliberately, but there is going to be a lot of shifting around. Right now we are in a year where meetings have been packed together, empty paddocks and few spectators with one or two notable exceptions. And yet it is amazingly closely fought in the two World championships and the British.
JW: Certainly, World Superbikes has never ever been so close in points at this point in the season. Ever. We’ve had swap rounds where one rider leads and then another but never where the leading two, Toprak and Jonathan, are so close in points. We just don’t know who’s going to win it.
BSB, going into the Showdown, has a 30-point podium gap between the leading two which reflects the fact that Jason O’Halloran has done a mega job this year.
I think it will come down to a battle between team-mates O’Halloran and Mackenzie. But, that said, the championship is going later into the season than it ever has and the weather be a major factor. Right now it is absolutely pouring down up here. Taz has a chance but I don’t think anyone else has.
Jason has probably got to make a really big mistake but it is Britain, it is late in the year and anything can happen.
BSN: Why do you think it has taken so long for O’Halloran to come to the front. He’s been here a long time?
JW: I think he came over here 11 or 12 years ago with a team called SMT on a Honda as a stand-in rider because someone, I think it might have been Adam Jenkinson, had hurt himself.
He’s always acquitted himself well, never had a bad season but never the season his talent deserves. For the last few years he has been tipped as a candidate but he has had a lot of bad luck, a couple of broken legs etc. Now in his early thirties he’s got a lot more confidence this year, good machinery and not so much bad luck apart from colliding with his team mate every now and again! He’s a really nice bloke,
a true professional and if it wasn’t for that Catweasel beard he’s a trying to grow he’d be OK.
BSN: Just going back to the annual merry go round of riders and whether Dorna much care about who is in WSBK, they would love somebody from the UK in MotoGP, no doubt about that. But I’m not sure who they are going to get as Sam Lowes has made his decision early and is staying in Moto2 while Jake Dixon isn’t exactly cutting the mustard - but perhaps that’s slightly harsh.
JW: Well Jake hasn’t had enough time on the bike. I thought his first run at Silverstone was quite impressive considering the time he had, tyre issues etc. He’s youngish, good looking and I would love him to be our MotoGP rider if he can do it.
There’s also a little bit of a rumour that Rory Skinner might have been having talks with a Moto2 team but I thought he had a two year deal with FS-3 so I don’t know whether that holds water.