Shaun Muir’s SMR squad and the Yamaha factory have major reason to celebrate following this weekend’s Big Brands Hatch event as their Aussie prodigy Josh Brookes claimed his first wins of the season and was subsequently crowned ‘King of Brands’, all the while drowning the doubts critics had about the R1s capability in the series.
|King of Brands!
Photo: MCE BSB
This weekend had something different up for grabs as well, such is the nature of the MCE BSB series in always looking for something different to entice fans through the gates, new and old. The coveted ‘King of Brands’ prize made a return for the rider who aggregated the best result from the weekend, along with a potential £50,000 up for grabs for a rider able to go from #LastToFirst
as Neil Hodgson did back at Oulton Park in 2000. Would anyone take the plunge?
Reigning BSB champion Shane Byrne stormed off the line as the lights went out the first time around, taking the holeshot ahead of Brookes, whom he clinched pole from on Saturday by just 0.001s, with Michael Laverty, Richard Cooper, James Ellison and Stuart Easton in hot pursuit during the opening laps.
Brookes took the lead from Byrne on the fourth lap where he remained for the remainder of the race.
The ensuing battle for the remaining podium spots soon lost one contender in the form of Stuart Easton as he stepped off his PBM Kawasaki into Hawthorns at devastatingly high speed, with the Scotsman escaping ‘lightly’ with a broken ankle, while his ZX10R was resigned to become part of the local woodland, scattered in various trees beyond the air fence. Michael Laverty, who was riding closely behind the former double British Supersport champion at the time, suggested the get-off was nearing on 150mph.
It’s rare that lightening strikes twice, but unfortunately for Paul Bird it did just that as his remaining hope for victory in race one, Byrne, took a near identical tumble into the kitty litter at Hawthorns at half race distance, gifting Brookes the victory – to which the Aussie modestly declared that it didn’t feel like a genuine victory given that Byrne had fallen. To finish first, however, first you must finish…
Richard Cooper and James Ellison claimed the remaining podium spots just ahead of Tommy Bridewell on the Tyco BMW. Team mate Michael Laverty came in shortly after in 5th, accompanied by a returning John Hopkins and his teeth on the Moto Rapido Ducati in 6th.
|Photo: MCE BSB
Would anyone take the £50,000 gamble? Josh Brookes looked like he was about to, coming round from the warm up lap, the former BSB runner up lined up at the back of the grid, before gesturing to the marshals with a shake of the head and no doubt a rye grin under that Anthony Gobert inspired skid lid, and took off again toward his spot at the front of the grid. Top bants.
As the lights went out for the second time of the day, Byrne took off again like a scolded cat as the lights went out with Brookes yet again in hot pursuit. As he did in race one, albeit a few laps later, Brookes made his move for the lead at Druids, making it stick and eking out a near 3.5 second lead by the end of the race.
Behind Byrne, Ellison and Cooper continued to jostle for the final podium position with the Anvil Hire TAG Kawasaki man top trumping JG Speedfit Kawasaki’s Ellison come the flag once again. Laverty came home in another solid 5th position while his team mate, Tommy Bridewell crashed out earlier in the race at Surtees.
Billy McConnell, minus the chicken pox, finished in 6th ahead of Luke Mossey, Christian Iddon, Jason O’Halloran and Broc Parkes rounding off the top 10.
Results can be found on the BSB website here.
1. Shane Byrne 221
2. Josh Brookes 216
3. James Ellison 147
4. Stuart Easton 139
5. Jason O’Halloran 103
6. Tommy Bridewell 99
7. Michael Laverty 98
8. Richard Cooper 76
9. Dan Linfoot 62
10. Billy McConnell 53
Following his successful day, the newly crowned King of Brands gave his own version of The King’s Speech: “It’s strange, we’ve gone this far into the season and haven’t been able to win and then we get two in the one day – it’s pretty awesome feeling. It’s a team environment; the guys have worked so hard to make the bike better for me each round and at the start of the season.
“When you wait for something you really appreciate it and the bike worked really well by race day – I couldn’t fault it and I think it’s down to our plan we had in place. We had a ‘Theoretical Thursday’, ‘Effort Friday’ and try whatever we needed to do to get that done, a ‘Sensible Saturday’ where we put settings in that were just sensible to get the job done and ‘Successful Sunday’. We had a plan, we stuck to it, and we achieved.
“It all reflects back on the bike really, I didn’t improve the round or the round before that – the bike did. It’s given me the ability to ride with confidence and you can see in the start of the second race the team had made a small change. From what we could see in the data they thought this would help so I told the team to do what you need to do, and I’ll just ride it.
“The first couple of laps I thought ‘this isn’t right, I’m not turning in, I’m not getting apexes’, and Shakey really seemed to have control of the first couple of laps in his typical style and didn’t seem to be suffering from anything I was hoping to capitalise on. Then about four laps in, it just started to settle into a rhythm and the bike started to feel even better than race one.
“I was able to just watch Shakey for a little while and then had a look in a few places but I couldn’t see the correct place to do it and then an opportunity opened up and I went for it. To get into the lead and to get a gap is such a great feeling – the bike was on rails and it changed direction like a cat, it was just perfect.”
While it wasn’t the best weekend for Byrne to say the least, he got away lightly feeling just a little
|Photo: PBM Kawasaki
second hand from a 150mph sit-down: “The first race crash was unlucky and all the data showed was that I’d used slightly more rear brake which was enough to unload the front tyre. I went down hard and the boys did a great job in repairing the bike so it was down to me to pay them back in the second race. I’d be lying if I said I felt brand new but I gave it my best shot although I made a few mistakes during the race allowing Josh to get away, I’ll take second given where we were earlier in the day. Massive thanks to the whole PBM team for rebuilding the bike and I’m sorry I couldn’t give them the win.”
Byrne’s team mate Stuart Easton wasn’t quite so lucky. He’ll be out for at least the next round, which isn’t all bad for the Scotsman or at least, his wife who is apparently heavily pregnant, according to Twitter (therefore it must be true): “I was feeling confident coming into this weekend although we had a few issues getting the bike how I wanted it. I was happy after qualifying although we had a technical problem during morning warm-up which meant we had to change engines. I was feeling good in the race then all of a sudden I was flying towards the barriers and although I’ve suffered an injury to my leg, all things considered I was extremely lucky. We’ll see exactly what the damage is and I hope to be back and challenging again soon.”
Following a nightmare couple of rounds for James Ellison, he and the JG Speedfit GB Moto Kawasaki squad were delighted with his points haul this weekend, bringing his championship bid back on track: “After the last two rounds, our aim here at Brands Hatch was to score some solid points so I’m really pleased to be walking away having made a return to the podium. The injury at Snetterton really set us back, and although we’ve had the pace despite that, we just haven’t managed to replicate it in the races – so a third and fourth here is really good and has seen us move back up to third in the Championship.
I am a little gutted not to have made a double podium, I felt I had the pace to do it again in race two but we made a very small change for the second race which although didn’t make the bike worse, it meant we didn’t make the step forward the guys in front did. For some reason we’ve had a bit of trouble with the front of the bike this weekend, the first time I’ve ever had that, so we’re going to take a look at the frame and forks in case it’s a legacy of the crash from Knockhill. Although I won’t be fully fit, I’ve got another two weeks until Thruxton so will definitely take another step forward and hopefully walk away with two podiums at the least!”
So it’s officially half way through the season and it’s a foregone conclusion as to who three of the Showdown contenders will be this year (bar any disasters); Messrs Byrne, Brookes and Ellison. Stuart Easton will have his work cut out for him to get back in time to defend his place as fourth in the series and securing the Showdown spot, given that rivals like Tommy Bridewell, Jason O’Halloran, Michael Laverty and now Richard Cooper are all finding form… when not getting caught up in various off-track excursions. While Easton has a 139 points perch in the standings, compared with Cooper’s 76 points, he can’t afford to spend more than two rounds absent from competition without piling on the pressure for the Showdown spot decider at Oulton Park. Get in that Hypobaric chamber, ratboy!
To be brutally honest, unless something major changes in the coming three rounds, we don’t see Ryuichi Kiyonari being able to claw back a Showdown bid. Last year’s runner-up sits 43 points behind Bridewell in the final Showdown position, with his season going from bad to worse this weekend in Kent, finishing outside of the points in both races. The 3-time British champion is set to ride in the Suzuka 8-Hour race this coming weekend however, riding for Team Kagayama alongside the team owner himself and Noriyuki Haga. Hopefully a good result there will give Kiyo the boot up the backside he needs to get his season started properly and rediscover his form from last year and 2015 pre-season testing.
|Photo: JG Speedfit GB Moto Kawasaki
As for the fight for the overall championship, at this stage it looks to be a three horse race. Brookes and the Yamaha have made startling progress – much to the delight of SMR, Milwaukee and Yamaha Motor Europe after the Michael Dunlop TT PR disaster – so more wins must definitely be on the cards. Brookes has played the Ryan Dungey ‘Diesel’ strategy this year, finishing off the podium just once and now with 2 wins to his name and no DNFs. Consistency is the name of the game and has meant that although he has just 2 wins to his name compared to Byrne’s 5 wins, the two DNFs for the PBM Kawasaki rider mean that Brookes sits just 5 points adrift in the championship. Could that be the deciding factor for the championship this year?
As for third place man James Ellison, the horrendous misfortune he suffered at the previous two rounds put an enormous dent in his championship bid. However, as long as he has put the demons to bed from the two bogey rounds, he’s more than capable of smashing a load more wins between now and the end of the season.
What’s more, as is the characteristic of the Showdown it gifts the chance for a late championship charge from perhaps the Tyco BMW boys or Jason O’Halloran on the Honda, with all 3 riders and both teams continuing to adapt and find the ideal setup on their machines, we’d expect their main challenge for more podiums and wins to come at the sharp end of the calendar.
But, you know, this is racing, so all of the above is probably going to be completely invalid Brands Hatch in October Nevermind.
Tweets of the Weekend
Round 7 – Thruxton, Hampshire – 31 July – 2 August 2015.