Friday, October 03, 2008

The Great BSB Exodus

People always like to think of the British Superbike Championship as a breeding ground for World Championship racing. Youngsters, and sometimes not-so-youngsters, develop their talent in a hard, competitive race series and are prepared for World Superbike and maybe MotoGP. In the late nineties and early noughties, Troy Bayliss, Shane Byrne, Neil Hodgson and James Toseland passed through the series, three of them moving to WSBK and becoming World Champions, and all four moving to MotoGP with varying degrees of success. Then there was a barren period of a few years, but at the end of this year will be a major exodus. The top four riders in the BSB are all moving up to World Championship level.

Shane Byrne is BSB champion on the Airwaves Ducati, and he will be moving to the Sterilgarda Go Eleven Ducati squad in World Superbikes. He has very limited WSBK experience, having taken a double at Brands back in the day, but has been in MotoGP for a while, riding awful bikes. (Well, the Team KR bike had a good chassis but a terrible KTM engine, to be fair, but the Aprilia seemed to be awful in most respects.)

Leon Haslam, currently running second in the BSB championship standings for HM Plant Honda, is moving to WSBK for Stiggy Honda. He has done a season of WSBK for Renegade Ducati, and needed to move back up because he is making a habit of finishing 2nd in the BSB title race. How good the Stiggy bike will be remains to be seen, but their WSS machine isn't too bad.

Tom Sykes is one of the kids who ran at the front of British Supersport and exploded onto the BSB scene 2 years ago. Sykes is currently 3rd in the BSB points table on his Rizla Suzuki. He has pulled off the biggest coup of all, landing a semi-factory bike with Yamaha Italia. (It may help that Sykesy's good friend and fellow Yorkshireman James Whitham used to ride for Yamaha Italia when they were still Belgarda, and as a TV commentator often gets to see his old pal Massimo Meregalli, now boss of Yamaha Italia.)

Finally, Cal Crutchlow, another of the BSS stars who moved up to BSB last year, has bagged a Yamaha seat in World Supersport. Being very, very quick in BSS isn't going to do him any harm at all. He should do well in WSS when he learns the tracks. He is generally less consistent than Sykes, but his WSBK wildcard showing at Donington proved his ultimate speed.

So is BSB going to be devoid of talent next year? Will it be a disaster?

No, of course not. Giraffesque Englishman Leon Camier will be staying with the GSE Airwaves squad for their move to Yamaha bikes. He has only just started to get the hang of Ducatis, but he is certainly quick on a Japanese four, so he will be one of the major contenders, providing he remembers not to tie his skeleton up in a knot over The Mountain at Cadwell. Camier is a quality rider, who is definitely going to end up in WSBK at some point.

MotoGP rider Sylvain Guintoli has reportedly signed for Crescent Suzuki next year. Sylvain might not be as quick as Elias and Stoner on near-identical machinery, but he's still a seriously talented rider. It's surprising that Sylvain didn't find a ride in WSBK, but with Bayliss leaving the series everything went a bit mad, and the music stopped before the Frenchman managed to sit down. Anyway, Guintoli is another proper rider who will ensure BSB will be excellent in 2009.

James Ellison is also a MotoGP reject, but he has done well this year on the Hydrex Honda. We can add him to the list of talented riders who will be in BSB. Karl Harris hasn't managed to win a race, but he's clearly very quick too.

Michael Laverty is another talented lad who will be there or thereabouts, especially if TAS Suzuki get additional factory support.

Australian Glen Richards has won this year's BSS title, and is surely on a lot of BSB team managers' lists, having speed and experience and being universally popular. There is also talk of talented scouser Steve Brogan moving up to BSB. Jason O'Halloran is another youngster who has impressed in his couple of BSB races. The Aussie must be on the radar for next year.

That isn't an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to show that although the British Superbike Championship is losing four of the top riders, there is a great depth of talent out there. Next year will be hard fought by a load of talented guys. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing to worry about. BSB 2009 will be as good as ever.

No comments: