“Is this year’s World Superbike Championship, kicking off at Aragon this weekend, going to be another one-horse race and was John McGuiness fair in suggesting that Sam Lowes ‘fucked up’ in crashing out of last weekend’s Moto 2 race at Le Mans?”
A Yorkshireman born and bred James Whitham’s answer to both to both questions was a blunt “No” suggesting the questioner didn’t know what he was talking about and, as befitting a highly successful racer and now analyst and commentator for Eurosport, went on to explain why in some depth, even quoting one of the great American President’s famous address entitled “The Man in the Arena.”
In answer to the question that yet another WSBK title was Rea’s to lose rather than win Whitham responded: “On paper you would be a bit daft not to bet on Jonathan winning the championship because over a long season he seems virtually unbeatable.
“However, looking at the tech regs tells you things have changed a bit this year in that BMW have been given a lot more revs, meaning more power, and is going to be quicker. I think Ducati is still the best bike although virtually no changes on last year. And the Kawasaki, even though they’ve made no changes to the engine other than lighter pistons which mean it should rev more, have been told by the Dorna tech people that they are not going to be allowed to do that.
“So, machine-wise it will be closer than last year so maybe it is not going to be a runaway for Jonathan. But I would still put my money on him.”
So is it the rider or is it the team? Praising Rea’s achievements as exceptional Whitham added: “Kawasaki aren’t in another major championship other than Superbike. All their eggs are in one basket. All the others are involved in MotoGP so Kawasaki have to be good at it.
“Another thing which might make a bit of difference is that the teams are limited now to 10 days of testing and I think that is a good thing because the big manufacturers are going to find it difficult to test all their new parts.
“And if you can’t test you can’t develop. So, this should really benefit the lower funded teams like Pedercini. So, this is another reason why it should be more of an even championship this year.”
And what of the other teams? Aren’t Ducati and Yamaha the only ones likely to challenge Kawasaki? Honda have been promising something for a long time and have never come up with it and BMWs much talked about ‘new’ engine hasn’t yet appeared has it? For two big manufacturers, it’s a bit pathetic isn’t?
“No, not at all. There are reasons for it. We are waiting for a new engine from BMW, they have got a lot stronger cylinder head so they should have less reliability problems and can probably produce more power reliably. So maybe they will have a really good bike and it is looking really good for the British championship. I know there are different regulations but they are looking good.
“I think it is Honda who will suffer the most from the lack of testing because they have got so much equipment, so much to try out. Talking to Leon Haslam the other day and he said they’d been able to address all the problems they had last year but there was so much work in testing all the new parts in 10 days. But who knows? As a standard bike it is really good but are they going to have enough time to turn it into a race winner immediately?”
So is WSBK 2021 a foregone conclusion? The voice of experience replies: “Listen, I have been involved in championships called a foregone conclusion which have turned out to be the best ever. And sometimes you think it is going to be brilliant and it is not. I think it is going to be a lot closer than people think. Scott Redding has got a lot of fire in his belly. There’s been a lot of things on social media which have caused him to take bit of umbrage against what people are saying.
“One of the problems WSB is facing is that MotoGP has been so good and the weather played into their hands for the spectators and viewers last weekend. The flag-to-flag thing worked really well. It was exciting. WSB has big boots to fill. We all love the British championship because of the thrills and spills but I believe WSB will be great this year. A rider like Garrett Gerloff is exceptionally good as he showed last year, he loves being in Europe, he’s getting used to the circuits, the Yamaha is competitive and he’s got a lot to shout about. Ruben Ronaldinho is going to be good and he’s going to step up.
“If anybody’s going to be a threat to Jonathan it would be Scott Redding but I tell you who might go well, and I have just got a feeling about him, Michael van der Mark. BMW would have paid a lot for him so they’ve got to start performing and so has he.”
Fresh from a BSB test day at Oulton Park, Whitham was quick to dismiss another ‘foregone conclusion’ that Josh Brooks and the Paul Bird team Ducati will walk the British Superbike Championship. “Not at all,” was his immediate response.” There’s absolutely no way he’s going to walk away with it. Yes, he’s going well. He’s on the same bike, the same team, same data.
“He’s always going to be quick early on because that’s exactly what happened last year. However, the BMs look really good and they’ve got big wings on the front now to help them cope with circuits like Oulton Park or Cadwell.
“O’Halloran will be good and there are some good youngsters coming through like Kyle Ryde, Brad Ray and we’ve got to wait and see how good Rory Skinner is. It may be too early to push for the championship but he could be fifth or sixth.”
But shouldn’t Skinner, having won last season’s Supersport Championship with ease and having previously been the European Talent Cup champion be in a world series like Moto 2 rather than staying at home?
Whitham’s opinion: “The reason why Rory Skinner is not in Moto2 is, while we love MotoGP and Moto2 and 3, is when you get a championship where the best rider probably cannot afford to be in the championship is that a valid championship?
“In the old days you got a bike, went to a meeting and if you qualified you got what you deserved. Now, it is not about that. It’s have you got 350 grand to put into a team. Maybe I’m old fashioned that some talents aren’t getting a chance to show it.”
And finally, on the subject of Moto2, what did he think of John McGuinness’s comment on Sam Lowes throwing it away at Le Mans suggesting he should have stayed on the bike and instead of excuses being made “someone needs to tell him he ‘fucked’ up? Not having read it but confessing to being a massive John McGuinness fan he said: “It’s really easy for people like us to sit on the side-lines and criticise people who make a mistake when they’re doing something which is very, very difficult to do. There’s a famous speech by Theodore Roosevelt titled ‘The Man in the Arena’ which starts ‘It’s not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena because there is no effort without error and shortcoming etc.”
And does he think Sam Lowes can still win the Moto 2 world championship? “Yes, I do” was his firm response.