Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WSBK: Stobart Honda Steps Up From BSB

Mildly controversial British Superbike team boss Paul Bird has surprised everybody by upping sticks and taking his team to World Superbikes.

The Stobart Vent-Axia Honda team had a decent season in BSB, with their two riders finishing 5th and 6th in the championship behind the all-conquering HM Plant Hondas and the nearly-all-conquering Airwaves Ducatis. However, they lost both riders at the end of the year, with Shane "Shakey" Byrne signing for Airwaves and Tom "Grinner" Sykes for Rizla Suzuki. This provoked a rant from Mr Bird as he talked to BikeSportNews (I did say he was a bit controversial.)

Furious at being dumped by his riders, when it's usually him that does the dumping, he decided to move to WSBK, partly to annoy Shakey and Grinner. Immediately, Stobart Honda went from being a riderless BSB team, which isn't too impressive, to being a riderless WSBK team, which is much more impressive.

The team will have some HRC backing, and will be on 2008-model machines after the first couple of races. Given that they did very well in BSB, you have to think that they will adapt well to the world stage. Now there are rumours zipping around the internet about who the team will hire. BSB star Gregorio Lavilla seems to have had enough with the British weather, especially since he got run over in the spray at Oulton and flung over the handlebars when he passed within 3 feet of a painted kerb at Knockhill. The Spaniard is hotly rumoured to be in line for a Stobart ride. The other rumour, that may just be wishful thinking, is that World Supersport rider Craig Jones will move up to the Superbike class. It would certainly be entertaining to see a Superbike ridden as sideways as Jonesy rides a Supersport machine, and the WSS ride he had been linked with has gone to Tommy Hill.

The best way for British riders to succeed on the world stage is to go there with a British team, as our riders have a long history of failing to get on with foreign crews. The new MotoGP hopeful James Toseland had been knocking around world championships for years, but his big break came with GSE Ducati. Neil Hodgson had a similar story. It will be a huge advantage for any young Brit to be with the Stobart team in World Superbikes, with mechanics who speak the same language and come from the same culture. This might just be the start of a revival of British fortunes in world championship racing.

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