BSB 2024: Oulton treble sees Irwin seize early control

Glenn Irwin British Superbike Championship

The British Superbike Championship (BSB) returned to familiar territory at the weekend with round two of this year’s series taking place at the iconic and picturesque Oulton Park, two weeks after it got underway at Navarra in Spain.

And a bumper crowd in Cheshire saw Hager PBM Ducati rider Glenn Irwin take all three wins to go to the top of the title standings.

Irwin boxes cleverly

Irwin opened his campaign in Spain with a steady if not spectacular performance, third and eighth to be precise, as he had to give best to the Yamaha’s of Ryan Vickers, Kyle Ryde and Danny Kent.

But he was back to his imperious best at Oulton with a stunning hat-trick and in the last nine races to be held at the venue, he’s won six, finished second in two and taken third in the other.

In all three races, Irwin was measured, polished and calculating leading the opening race for 15 of the 18 laps and then the Sprint from start to finish. And although he had to sit behind Christian Iddon for two thirds of the final race, when he made his move, he made it stick and never allowed his fellow Ducati rider to get close enough to attempt an overtake.

Glenn Irwin British Superbike ChampionshipGlenn Irwin BSB Image Credit Double Red

Irwin sat tight over the winter months, patiently waiting for the PBM Ducati team to make their decision about their 2024 racing activities but the team, now run by Jordan and Frank Bird jnr, the daughter and son of former late team owner Paul Bird, was always his first choice and he couldn’t be happier in the environment he’s in.

If anything, the one-man team should suit him even more and although there’s no longer any factory-support from the Italian factory, it’s a close-knit squad who know their roles inside out with some of the team members having been there for more than 20 years.

“We showed a number of key ingredients needed to win this weekend,” he said. “Resilience, determination, and precision being three. We had to show our character too and although I’ve done the treble before, at Silverstone, they don’t come easy, so you have to take them when they’re there. We boxed professionally this weekend, so the victories were nothing short of what the team deserved.”

Return to form for Iddon

By his own high standards, 2023 was a disappointing campaign for Iddon, ninth overall and just four podiums to show for his efforts in his maiden year with the Oxford Products Ducati Racing team, a team, that Tommy Bridewell had finished in the top three of the championship for the previous three seasons.

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True, he was a consistent top ten finisher but often, he was in the sixth to tenth area rather than battling for the podium places, which we’d become accustomed to, certainly in 2020 and 2021 when he’d finished third and fourth overall, racking up 21 podiums in the process.

Iddon BSBIddon BSBChristian Iddon BSB Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

However, he looked better than ever at Oulton as he pushed Irwin harder than anyone, deservedly ending the weekend with two seconds and a third. As Irwin himself said, Iddon set a phenomenal pace and the smile was certainly back on the Stockport-based rider’s face.

“The bike was amazing all weekend, which was a follow-on from the work that was done at Navarra,” he said. “I feel like I’m gaining so much confidence with the bike now. The improvements the team are making are working session on session which is making me ride better session on session. There’s more to come but we’re taking our time and trusting the schedule in place.”

Mixed weekend for Vickers and Ryde

The OMG Grilla Yamaha Racing pairing of Vickers and Ryde arrived at Oulton Park first and second in the championship but left in second and fifth so it wouldn’t be amiss to say it was a mixed weekend for them. They never looked like winning and scraping a solitary podium each was the best they could manage.

Ryan Vickers BSBRyan Vickers BSBRyan Vickers BSB Image Credit OMG Racing UK

Vickers was red hot in Spain and never put a foot wrong as he claimed his first career double. Repeating that at Oulton was always going to be a tall order though and after a solid fifth in the opening race, he lost his way with set-up and dropped all the way back to ninth in the Sprint.

To his credit though, and demonstrating a new-found maturity, he reacted well and was one of the fastest riders on track in the final race, eventually taking the final podium position on the final lap.

Ryde BSBRyde BSBRyde BSB Image Credit OMG Racing UK

Ryde, the hot title favourite for several pundits, set a blistering lap to claim pole position but after taking third in the opening race, he slipped backwards both in terms of track position and pace.

Fifth in the Sprint was followed by a retirement in the final race, but he was outside of the top six when it happened.

And although it’s very early in the season, consistency is what he needs if he’s to truly challenge for the title. It was missing last year so he won’t want a repeat performance.

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Bridewell and Honda show promise

After five years riding Ducatis, a few eyebrows were raised within the paddock when reigning champion Bridewell left the Italian brand and took his number one plate to Honda Racing. But although it’s been a bumpy ride so far, the signs are beginning to look positive.

The 2024 Honda Fireblade has been hit with a number of technical issues so far, particularly with the valves and also the gearbox, and the team are already running short on engines and other parts so much so that only Superstock-spec machines are available for the road racing team of Dean Harrison, John McGuinness MBE and Nathan Harrison at this week’s North West 200.

Tommy Bridewell BSBTommy Bridewell BSBTommy Bridewell BSB Image Credit Double Red

Bridewell has been affected himself, especially in testing and the second race at Navarra, but at Oulton he showed that when everything’s 100%, he’ll be winning races.

He almost did so at Oulton, one of his most successful venues, and took a close second to former team-mate Irwin in the Sprint race. With fourth and sixth in the other two races, Bridewell’s confident good times aren’t far away.

“We proved that we’ve got podium pace,” he said. “I’ve raced on other bikes and know what other bikes are capable of so to do that at this stage of the development cycle of a new bike is just fantastic. Once we get the next stage complete then I think there are a lot of people out there who are going to be a little bit worried. There are only exciting times ahead.”

Kent continues to shine

Kent was tipped by many to be a dark horse for this year’s championship, and he’s certainly lived up to that billing at the first two rounds. It’s most definitely been a case of ‘so far, so good’ for the former Moto3 World Champion.

He impressed last season when riding a Honda for his own, privately-run team but getting on the R1 Yamaha has seen him make a major step forward and he’s yet to finish out of the top six. He was superb at Navarra where he took two podiums, but it could be argued it was a track that favoured the Yamahas as they filled the podium places in each race.

Danny Kent BSBDanny Kent BSBDanny Kent BSB Image Credit McAMS Racing by Mar-Train

Oulton, a traditional UK circuit, put everyone on a more level playing field so that, along with Kent’s own inexperience of riding a Superbike around the undulating 2.692-mile venue, makes his two fourths and a sixth, arguably, more impressive.

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The decision to recruit Chris Anderson to the McAMS Racing by Mar-Train team to act as crew chief is already proving to be a masterstroke, Anderson having spent more than 20 years in the BSB paddock which includes taking the title with Tarran Mackenzie and Yamaha. Could history repeat itself in 2024?

Big names yet to show form

Several expected front runners have yet to show their real form and big names such as Leon Haslam, Josh Brookes and Jason O’Halloran have found themselves battling for sixth to tenth place positions as opposed to the wins and podiums.

O’Halloran has made the switch from Yamaha, after five years, to Kawasaki with two sixth place finishes his best results so far and is probably taking longer to get up to speed than he would have liked.

He’s not a million miles away but, as yet, doesn’t have the pace to run at the front.

Oulton Park BSBOulton Park BSBOulton Park Image Credit McAMS Racing by Mar-Train

Haslam, continuing with his own BMW team, does have the pace but continues to be hit with technical issues just when it looks like he’s going to make a challenge. He’s finished every race so far and although he has a best of fourth, other finishes of tenth and 11th aren’t where he expects to be. He needs to sort the reliability issues out before he slips too far behind.

Brookes has fared worst of the three riders and, in all truth, was nowhere in Spain as he languished at the wrong end of the top 15. He was more competitive at Oulton taking three top ten finishes but was more than ten seconds adrift of Irwin in the feature races. Having won at the venue twelve months ago, neither he or the team have moved forward unlike his rivals, and that’s showing in the early-season results.

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.