British Superbike Championship: Sparks fly at Ducati

Paul Bird Tribute - Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photographer)

The British Superbike Championship has reached the business end of the season and with just two rounds to go and half a point between BeerMonster Ducati’s Glenn Irwin and Tommy Bridewell, sparks are beginning to fly!

Remembering Paul Bird

Before looking at the action on track, it’s important to look at the sad news off it and pay respect and tribute to Ducati team owner Paul Bird who sadly passed away last month, aged 56, after a short illness. To put it simply, the Cumbrian businessman, a mainstay in BSB since 2000 and the support championships before that, owned and ran the most successful team in BSB history the like of which will never be seen again.

A former professional footballer and Grand Prix motocross rider, Bird first put a team together in 1996 when he ran John McGuinness and Steve Patrickson in the British 250cc and 125cc Championships respectively with McGuinness going on to win the title and Isle of Man Lightweight TT race in 1999. A year later Bird moved his team into BSB, giving a young James Toseland his first opportunity on a Superbike.

Paul Bird Tribute – Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photographer)

Switching to Ducati, the team were soon running at the front with Steve Hislop taking their first BSB title in 2002. A year later, Shane Byrne made it title number 2, also famously winning two World Superbike Championship races at Brands Hatch and towards the end of the decade, Bird’s team were chosen to run Kawasaki’s return to the World Superbike Championship.

A spell in MotoGP followed before a return to BSB and more titles followed with Byrne, firstly with Kawasaki and then Ducati once more, in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 before Scott Redding and Josh Brookes gave them back-to-back titles in 2019 and 2020. After a slight dip in form, this year saw Bird give the team a major overhaul, upgrading the machinery and signing Irwin and Bridewell with the duo dominating the series and sitting first and second with two rounds to go.

A small section here on Bird and his team, and what they achieved together, doesn’t do him justice but in summary they won a record 8 BSB titles (surely soon to be a ninth), with a current, staggering total of 139 wins and 327 podiums. Throw in titles in British Supersport, 250cc and Superstock 1000 as well as wins at the TT, North West 200, Ulster GP and Macau GP, there wasn’t a single place where Bird and his team didn’t succeed.

Sometimes outspoken, sometimes controversial, Bird’s drive and determination to win never waned and the combination of he and the team were the benchmark that all others strived to reach. He was at his happiest within the paddock and he leaves a huge hole that will never be filled but a legacy that speaks for itself. Our thoughts are with his family and friends especially his children Jordan, Frank and Lexi.

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Game on within Ducati camp

The ninth round at Oulton Park at the weekend was the first meeting since Bird’s untimely passing and the best way for the team to pay their respects was to go out and win – which is exactly what they did with Irwin taking the first two race victories and Bridewell the last. That only tells half the story.

British Superbike ChampionshipGlenn Irwin and Tommy Bridewell Image Credit Double Red Photography

The duo were head and shoulders above anyone else at the Cheshire venue and Bridewell was expected to lead the way given his record around the 2.69-mile circuit. But Irwin led for 99% of the first race, which ultimately led to Bridewell making a mistake at the Hizzy’s Chicane on the last lap and dropping from second to fourth as a result.

He then looked to have made amends in the second race before a Safety Car period brought the pack together with just three laps to go. Bridewell appeared to brake suddenly just before the restart which nearly caused a big pile-up between the leading eight riders, and he was subsequently given a long lap penalty.

British Superbike ChampionshipTommy Bridewell Image Credit Double Red Photography

But with no time to take the long lap he had three seconds added to his race time instead and although he crossed the line first, he was ultimately classified in sixth, making his feelings clear to race organisation as he returned to pitlane.

That gave Irwin the championship lead for the first time since Knockhill in June but Bridewell finally took victory in the final race of the weekend after an impeccable ride, but the battle spilled over to off-track with plenty of words exchanged between the two.

British Superbike ChampionshipGlenn Irwin Image Credit Double Red Photography

What had previously been a harmonious environment now looks to be anything but with Bridewell stating there was a clear divide within the garage, and it was now war for the final two rounds. With both riders at the top of their game and gunning for their first titles, that was perhaps inevitable so it will be interesting to see how the final six races unfold.

Best of the rest

Lee Jackson enjoyed his strongest round of the year so far in the Championship with podiums in all three races at Oulton.

Without a ride for 2024, the Cheshire Mouldings Kawasaki rider put in the perfect audition for potential employees and was without doubt ‘best of the rest’ after the dominant performances of BeerMonster Ducati duo Irwin and Bridewell.

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Lee JacksonLee Jackson Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

Indeed, Jackson pushed them harder than anyone with his pace in the second half of each race, in particular, extremely strong. It saw him eat into their lead on each occasion and although he ultimately ran out of steam, two seconds and a third meant it was the first weekend of his career where he’d finished on the podium in all three BSB races.

“Oulton’s always been a track that’s been good to me, and the Kawasaki works well around here and I expected to be in the top five, at least,” he said. “I started Friday in a relaxed manner and just chipped away from there.”

The results made it five podiums for the season so far – all of them coming in the last nine races – and he’s very much a man in form as the championship reaches its business end and he searches for employment for next season.

Yamaha challenge faltering?

Yamaha have won the title for the last two years, with Tarran Mackenzie in 2021 and Bradley Ray in 2022, but their hopes of making it three in a row look to be faltering with Ducati in the ascendancy.

Their chances this time around lie with Kyle Ryde and Jason O’Halloran but both lost further ground to the flying Ducatis at Oulton and they now sit 60.5 and 84 points adrift respectively in third and sixth in the table.

BSBKyle Ryde Image Credit Ian Hopgood Photography

Ryde is having his strongest, most consistent season to date, but he’s been stuck in the third to sixth area of late with his last victory coming at round four at Knockhill in June. Challenging for the victories has been more difficult recently whilst he still tends to fade in the second half of the races. Making up a deficit of sixty points isn’t insurmountable, but realistically he needs Irwin and Bridewell to suffer DNF’s if he’s to stand a chance.

That applies to O’Halloran too with the title again set to elude him. Since dominating at Thruxton in mid-August, where he won all three races, he’s only managed one further podium and at Oulton he ran towards the bottom of the top ten each race, the last place he needed to be.

BSBJason O’Halloran Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

There are still 180 points available but the Australian’s chances of giving Yamaha another title look slim to say the least. And having signed for Kawasaki for 2024, replacing Jackson at FS-3 Racing, it doesn’t look like he’ll have a fairytale ending with the Yamaha brand.

Haslam remains in the hunt

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One spot behind Ryde in fourth overall is Leon Haslam and whilst he’s yet to take a win this season, he’s having a strong year on the ROKiT BMW and if it hadn’t been for four DNF’s he’d be sitting in third and a lot closer to Irwin and Bridewell.

Eight podiums for the season is a good return with the team he put together himself at the 11th hour but six of those have been thirds and the lack of victories has affected his challenge. 77.5 points behind Irwin, Haslam goes well at both Donington Park and Brands Hatch but like those around him, he needs Irwin and Bridewell to suffer misfortune if he’s to add the 2023 crown to the one he won five years ago.

Brookes rallies

After taking a brace of podiums at Snetterton in early July, former champion Josh Brookes has been on an horrendous run of form with just 34 points scored in the subsequent ten races. But he took a step back towards his old self at Oulton Park with three fifth place finishes.

Switching to the FHO Racing BMW team, Brookes started the year with a bang, taking two wins in the first four races to lead the championship but aside from that and the Snetterton round, it’s been a struggle as he’s found the BMW a complex machine to master as he’s visited circuits for the first time on the M1000RR.

Josh Brookes bsbJosh Brookes Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

With no data to work from, he’s had to start from scratch – and team-mate Peter Hickman has fared even worse – but Oulton saw him return to a venue he’d previously visited and that went some way to explaining the turnaround in form.

The same applies to the final two rounds at Donington Park and Brands Hatch so he should be towards the sharp end there too although with the deficit to Irwin now 110.5pts, his hopes of a third title have all but gone.

Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for almost 20 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News, Classic Racer and Road Racing Ireland, as well as being a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including PBM Ducati, John McGuinness, KTS Racing and Jackson Racing. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races working with the race organisation, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing the TV and radio broadcasting teams with statistical information.