The 2018 Bennetts British Superbikes Championship (BSB) headed south from Donington Park to Brands Hatch for their first of three visits for round two of the season and it appeared that local knowledge could favour the leading two. After a rain affected opening round at Donington Park, young gun Bradley Ray (Buildbase Suzuki) headed to his local circuit as the rider to beat after taking a superb double to open his BSB account. The twenty-year-old was beaming with confidence in his second season on-board the Suzuki, but at Brands Hatch would face even stiffer competition from next door local Shane “Shakey” Byrne. The BeWiser Ducati rider is no stranger to Brands Hatch and in a season where “Shakey” is targeting title number seven, Ray and the rest of the field would have to up their game to stop him reaching his goal. Ray got the better of Byrne in race one at Donington and with Shakey dropping outside the podium in race two, the Suzuki rider led the championship by nineteen points before coming home. Behind the local lads coming to Brands Hatch was Honda’s Dan Linfoot, two points adrift of Byrne but already twenty-one back from Ray. Linfoot had scored well at Donington Park but unfortunately at Brands Hatch his momentum faded before the races had even begun, as a crash in free practice on Friday in damp conditions left Linfoot in the hospital room and his weekend over. Hopefully the Honda rider can make a recovery in time for Round three at Oulton Park in May. One rider coming to Brands Hatch to clear the 2017 nightmares was JG Speedfit Kawasaki leading man Leon Haslam, as the “Pocket Rocket” sadly lost the 2017 title to Byrne after a horrendous high speed off in October around the GP loop. Haslam lied fourth in the stands, twenty-three points back from Ray, but took strides in the opening weekend to achieve a podium in race two after a disastrous opening race. You can never write off Leon Haslam at any BSB race meeting, so it wasn’t going to surprise anyone if he was challenging for race wins.
With the weather forecast at Brands Hatch being a lot different than the opening round, there were expectations for a lot more from majority of riders but Bradley Ray didn’t look fazed, as the local man grabbed pole position with a blistering time of 44.997s to deny local hero and new rival Shane “Shakey” Byrne. For majority of the session the Ducati man looked set for pole but Ray took control in the closing stages, going quicker by 0.097s. Byrne tried hard to topple Ray but claimed that traffic on the 1.2-mile Indy circuit hampered his pace and he had to settle for second. Lining up on the front row alongside the Kent duo was Anvil Hire Tag Yamaha’s James Ellison, who so far was having a decent season on-board the team’s Yamaha since switching from the Factory team and swapping with the Australian Josh Brookes. In what would be Ellison’s final BSB season before moving to the States, a podium at Donington Park showed his talents and now a front row start put him in great contention to overhaul the locals over thirty laps. Michael Laverty qualified the Tyco BMW in fourth, his best position since returning to the team, whilst Haslam managed fifth to sit in the middle of row two, ahead of Tommy Bridewell on the Halsall Racing Suzuki. The top nine in qualifying to complete row three was Jake Dixon on the RAF Reserves Kawasaki, Jason O’Halloran in eighth for Honda Racing and lastly Tarran MacKenzie; back after injury ruled him out of racing at Donington Park on the McAMS factory Yamaha. Showing the strength of the field, the top nine were covered by less than a second in Q3, as Tarran was only 0.866s slower than Ray.
Ray and Byrne fight for race one honours
The opening race at Brands Hatch got underway mid-day Sunday and with conditions perfect for racing, Bradley Ray showed his pace away from the lights to blast into an early lead, franticly closed down by Shane Byrne, who withheld pressure from James Ellison to hold second. The pace of Ray and Byrne broke them clear of the rest and on lap three Ray broke the lap record, with a time of 45:201s.
Behind the leading two there was great action for final podium position and top five, with Leon Haslam swapping positions with Michael Laverty and Jason O’Halloran, who on the Honda climbed from eighth on the grid. James Ellison was in this pack on the opening lap but disaster struck the Anvil Hire Tag Yamaha as he slipped down the order, in the end finishing sixteenth. Positions within the top five remained unchanged early on but on lap eight there was a shift as Michael Laverty dropped from fourth to sixth, losing out to team mate Iddon , as Jake Dixon and Richard Cooper upped the pressure from behind, targeting a top five. The next big move came on lap fifteen as O’Halloran took Haslam for third and the final podium spot and then watched as Haslam slipped into the clutches of the Tyco BMWs, with Iddon hunting fourth. Haslam resisted pressure and then on lap twenty, riders were faced with yellow flags on the run into Graham Hill Bend, as a Buildbase Suzuki hit the deck. It wasn’t Bradley Ray but instead team mate Richard Cooper, who threw away a top ten finish with a low side off after hitting the brakes chasing down Tommy Bridewell. When the yellow flags were pulling in, there were a couple of position changes as Jake Dixon and Glenn Irwin split the Tyco BMWs, dropping Laverty down to eighth. These positions would remain the same for the last ten laps whilst at the front tension mounted as the local boys targeted victory on home soil.
After leading the race for so long, the positions were settled on the penultimate lap in favour of Shane “Shakey” Byrne as a mistake into Paddock Hill Bend caused Ray to run wide and Byrne didn’t hesitate, putting the Ducati ahead of the Suzuki and withholding any fightback to pull clear by nearly a second. Byrne took the chequered flag by 0.837s with Ray comfortably second ahead of Jason O’Halloran’s Honda, as the Australian completed the podium. The fastest lap time set by Ray promoted the Buildbase Suzuki to pole position for race two with Byrne lining up second and Leon Haslam third.
Bennetts British Superbike Championship (BSB), Brands Hatch, Race One Top 5:
- Shane Byrne (No.67 – BeWiser Ducati) = 30 Laps
- Bradley Ray (No.28 – Buildbase Suzuki) = +0.837s
- Jason O’Halloran (No.22 – Honda Racing) = +2.412s
- Leon Haslam (No.91 – JG Speedfit Kawasaki) = +2.863s
- Christian Iddon (No.21 – Tyco BMW) = +5.101s
Haslam Masters the Rain for Victory
Conditions for race two were certainly on the turn and after a disrupted Supersport race beforehand, riders were expecting the rain to come in at some stage. The race got underway in the dry but after seven laps, hands were raised as rain fell and stewards made the decision to red-flag proceedings. The grid lined up again after a little delay but this time the race was declared wet, as a shower dampen the 1.2-mile Indy circuit and created an exciting end to the Brands Hatch weekend.
The race restarted with Richard Cooper becoming the early leader on the Buildbase Suzuki, replicating his team mate Ray but unfortunately for the team, Cooper replicated race one by falling off the Suzuki and out of the race. The departure of Cooper handed Leon Haslam the race lead and the JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider struggled as first rider to hit the wet patches. Haslam held the lead for two laps but on lap nine Michael Laverty powered the Tyco BMW into the lead with Jake Dixon slotting into second. Haslam would slip to fifth as both the BeWiser Ducatis muscled in with Irwin getting the better of “Shakey” and moving towards the front, challenging Laverty for the lead on lap eleven through to fourteen, before Haslam fought back.
On lap seventeen the battle at the front was between four riders but at Graham Hill Bend this became three as Dixon and Haslam went side by side through the corner before Dixon high-sided the RAF Reserves Kawasaki and slid down the road, leaving Haslam third behind Laverty and Irwin. The three would continue to run as a unit, swapping regularly before Irwin and Haslam pulled slightly clear for a fight to the flag.
Irwin led on the final lap but on the run out of Graham Hill Bend Haslam did enough to retake the lead and held on around into Surtees and around Clearways. The speed of the Kawasaki kept the Ducati at bay and Haslam recorded victory by 0.367s with Laverty completing the podium. After running with the front three, Shane Byrne dropped back to finish fourth and close the championship gap to ten points on Bradley Ray, with Josh Brookes mastering conditions on the McAMS Yamaha to climb from outside the top ten to fifth for his best result of the season on the factory Yamaha. Christian Iddon would finish in sixth ahead of championship leader Bradley Ray. The Halsall Racing Suzuki of Tommy Bridewell was eighth with Tarran MacKenzie ninth to put both McAMS Yamahas in the top ten. The top ten was completed by Carl Phillips who had a superb ride on the Gearlink Kawasaki who moved up from the rear of the field.
Bennetts British Superbike Championship (BSB), Brands Hatch, Race Two Top 5:
- Leon Haslam (No.91 – JG Speedfit Kawasaki) = +30 Laps
- Glenn Irwin (No.2 – BeWiser Ducati) = +0.367s
- Michael Laverty (No.7 – Tyco BMW) = +0.598s
- Shane Byrne (No.67 – BeWiser Ducati) = +7.733s
- Josh Brookes (No.25 – McAMS Yamaha) = +12.808s
With round two completed attention now turns to testing as there is an official BSB test session at Oulton Park in late April, before round three commences at the same venue over the first bank holiday weekend in May. Bradley Ray (79 Pts) and Shane Byrne (69 Pts) continue on from their local circuit as the top two in the championship but Ray’s lead has now been cut to ten points, whilst Leon Haslam has jumped to third, fourteen points adrift of top spot. Missing the race meeting due to injury unfortunately affected Dan Linfoot (29 Pts) as the Honda Racing rider dropped five places from third, sitting behind Glenn Irwin (48 Pts), Michael Laverty (36 Pts), Christian Iddon (33 Pts) and team mate Jason O’Halloran (32 Pts). The action is expected to heat up as the season progresses further and with the all-important showdown the only way to win the championship, the fight for podium credits and to qualify in top six will be on every riders mind.
To keep up to date with the BSB over the rest of the season, please visit www.britishsuperbike.com or catch the action live on Eurosport.
For more photos from the BSB at Brands Hatch, including the support races, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs