Monday, April 21, 2008

BSB Thruxton: Shakey Start To New Season

The British Superbike Championship finally kicked off at Thruxton with a victory for Shane "Shakey" Byrne on his Ducati 1098, and one for Cal Crutchlow on his Honda Fireblade.

It had been a longer wait than expected for the new season to start, unless you count Frosty the Snowman's double at Brands a fortnight ago. The racing lived up to expectations with a mix of the usual suspects and a few surprises battling at the front. Nobody was especially surprised by Shakey's pace in qualifying and the race on the new 1200cc Ducati. It went pretty well for a bike that would supposedly be so dangerous to use with stock pistons that the GSE team had announced their retirement from the series. Surprise, surprise, Ducati weren't at a disadvantage in a Superbike race.

The Thruxton circuit runs round the perimeter of an old WW2 airfield, consisting of a right - left - right complex, a flat out blast around the plains and a slowish chicane at the end of the lap. These modern Superbikes take the back of the circuit at terrifyingly high speed, squirming around and spinning their tyres spectacularly on the fast turns such as the 140mph Church corner before braking down from 200mph to take the silly chicane onto the start/finish straight. Exactly the kind of track where a mooing V-twin should lose out to screaming inline 4 machines...

Nobody was especially shocked to see Shakey Byrne win race 1 on his Airwaves Ducati after fighting past the HM Plant Honda youngsters. Crutchlow took 2nd place in front of old dog Michael Rutter, the Alex Barros of BSB, on the Northwest 200 Ducati. Young Haslam had to settle for 4th in front of Shakey's team-mate Leon Camier. The basketball player sized Camier fought through the field to grab 5th despite being injured from a pre-season testing crash.

Karl Harris had made a brilliant start and was running 3rd when his Yamaha conked out, unable to hack the constant high revs required at Thruxton. A similar fate befell youngster Adam Jenkinson, who had incredibly been hanging onto the coat tails of the big names on his Superbike debut when his Honda went bang. Tom Sykes was 6th, riding injured after a massive highside in qualifying had hurt his thumb, which he uses for the Doohan-style rear brake that seems to be back in fashion again. James Ellison was 7th.

Race two had to be re-run after a jaw-dropping crash saw the first attempt red-flagged. Tom Sykes and Leon Haslam were battling in the complex when Sykes clipped Haslam's back wheel and was thrown off his bike. The Rizla Suzuki machine wasn't satisfied with that small bit of destruction, and cartwheeled along until it found Karl Harris and slapped him up side the head, knocking the big bruiser off his Yamaha altogether. It was a terrifying crash, with Harris disappearing into the air fence close to his bike. The red flag was shown almost immediately.

Of course, everybody says Karl Harris is tough, but this crash showed that he's tougher than tough. Unbelievably, he managed to stand up and walk to the ambulance. Harris going head first into an air fence at 60mph is like a charging rhino going head first through a sheet of plywood.

Race two was re-run over a shorter distance, and it was Tom Sykes who took the lead, probably still howling with adrenaline. However, it was his old sparring partner Cal Crutchlow who took the victory, his first in BSB. Professional bridesmaid Leon Haslam disappeared into the pits with an electrical problem, for the millionth time having a weekend ruined by poor setup and bad luck. Shakey Byrne and Michael Rutter had been held up behind Sykes's tyre-smoking Suzuki, allowing Crutchlow to escape. The Ducati codgers battled amongst themselves, with Shakey ending up 2nd and Rutter taking another 3rd in an amazing return to form. The veteran must be a serious dark horse for the championship.

Lanky Leon Camier managed to grab 4th this time out, with Michael Laverty sneaking his Suzuki into 5th and Stuart Easton wrestling his Kawasaki to 6th in front of James Ellison, who seems to like the number 7 rather a lot.

It was a great start to the year, with some great racing. The teams and riders who have moved on to pastures new were soon forgotten, with their places taken by quick youngsters and oldies who still have what it takes. Shakey Byrne looks like the favourite for the title. It would be a lot to ask for Crutchlow to take the title in his 2nd year of Superbike, and with a new team at that, but he'll be there to pounce on any mistake from or injury to Shakey. I'd keep an eye on old stager Michael Rutter, whose pace in the wet will come in handy, and Leon Camier should come on strong later in the year. The Ducati was brilliant on the power-hungry Thruxton track, and it will be interesting to see how it goes on the more twisty and torque-friendly tracks on the rest of the calendar.


Nicebloke said...

It really was a pretty entertaining start to the season. Glad there wasn't any snow...

Jimmy said...

Yeah, good to get started at last!