Wednesday, 23 November 2011

BSB 2012 Taking Shape

Finally BSB 2012 is taking shape after the much-anticipated Suzuki pull out from MotoGP was confirmed shortly after the post-season MotoGP test at Valencia. It seems every Tuesday there has been a big announcement for a British team, starting with Leon Camier moving to last years BSB title runners up and now WSB new boys Crescent Suzuki.

Next came the surprise news of Alex Lowes re-joining WFR Honda, the team he started 2011 with, before an acrimonious and quite public split almost a third of the way in to the season. Alex made a phenomenal start to 2011 winning almost every Evo race including securing a Pole Position start at Oulton Park. There is no doubt the younger, by 2 minutes, of the Lincoln-based Lowes twins has talent but his results after his departure from WFR were less than sparkling - with the exception of a solitary Pole Position at Thruxton on the MSS/Colchester Kawasaki ZX-10. A coveted ride on a factory-spec WSB Honda Fireblade for Ten Kate Honda lead to nothing and finishing the season on a less than competitive Motorpoint Yamaha R1 also did little for his confidence, so I hope he starts 2012 the way he started 2011 and that form continues through the season and he shows us just exactly what he can do on a superbike. He will face stiff competition from team mate Graeme Gowland who's late season form was nothing short of brilliant and a dark horse for a Showdown place come next September.

Paul Bird is back in the British Championship after his foray in to WSB, and it's no shock to anyone who has followed British Championship racing for more than 8 years to see who will line up for him next year. Stuart Easton, a former british Supersport Champion for PBM on board a Monstermob Ducati, had already been guaranteed a 2012 contract in the aftermath of his horrendous NW200 crash, a great gesture by Birdy to give Easton full concentration in his recovery period. Partnering him will be 2 time British Champion Shane Byrne, again a title winner for the squad on the Monstermob Ducati who has also campaigned a Stobart Honda Fireblade for the Penrith-based team. Both riders know the team well and the high standards demanded by the boss, and, depending on the pace of the Kawasaki in evo-spec, are already expected to be title contenders with Shakey, if he can shake off the set-up issues that affected him in 2011, the prime candidate.

There was no big shock in TAS Suzuki announcing that they will continue in to 2012 with Josh Brookes, not because it's rumoured nobody else will work with the difficult to please Aussie, but having found a work ethic that's acceptable to both parties and benefits the team as a whole they see continuity as the benchmark to a successful assault on the title. Phillip Neill is as excited as I've seen him looking in to next year, not least that the Suzuki reverts to traditional blue and white with Tyco sponsorship after several successful years in black with Relentless. Love him or hate him the blue-eyed Aussie is here to stay and that, for me, is a good thing.

The latest announcement is from Neil Tuxworth's Louth based Honda squad, the former HM Plant Honda team have announced Michael Laverty's defection from Swan Yamaha with ex-Crescent Suzuki rider John Kirkham joining the ranks in a move that wasn't predicted by too many people. Laverty's move is a good one for him, should the team at Swan Yamaha have remained then clearly MLav would be the #2 rider but in moving to Lincolnshire he is without doubt the more experienced of the 2 riders and also someone with his sights set firmly on the title. JK is a fast rider, sometimes he seems to doubt his ability on a superbike but after his demolition of numerous 1000cc Superstock fields his future clearly lies in the Superbike class, backing this up with a podium at Brands in October and winning the Superbike Cup in the process, he couldn't have any better chance than this to make it in to the Showdown final 6.

There are many teams and riders still to be announced for next year, not least Swan Yamaha and Tommy Hill. Yamaha are the only manufacturer not to run their machine in Evo trim in advance of next year's rule changes, the quirky configuration of the cross-plane crank on the R1 may not be idealy suited to the new regulations but whatever happens they are already well behind other manufacturers on development. With seats filling fast, options are becoming limited for the popular 2011 Champion and he needs to move quickly if he is to secure a ride capable of retaining his hard-won crown.

Another team that may fall foul of the Yamaha engine amongst other things are Rob Mac's Motorpoint outfit. Rob laid all his mechanics off prior to the Brands hatch finale in the hope they could find pastures new before the season came to a close or at least circulate their availability for next year. I have heard from a source close to Rob that he is seriously considering the option of not running a team for 2012 due to circumstances outside racing, and albeit some inside racing too. Although it has been said that Motorpoint were willing to support the team for one more season it looks unlikely they will be called upon. Another issue is riders, and the teams inability to get the best out of them at times. After quite possibly the most frustrating season - with rider changes (one self inflicted and unnecessary and one out of anyones control due to financial issues) and no real success in the big class since Niall Mackenzie in 1999, it looks a wholly uncertain future for one of Britiains most experienced and popular teams.

Finally away from the teams the BSB Calendar was announced this week with the biggest shock being a round at Assen in Holland. There is a lot of divided opinion on twitter and facebook with regards to this unprecendented move but, as the organisers say, the series has to seek new markets if it is continue at its current strength and somewhat bucking the trend of other motorsports series, and Assen really isn't that far - its closer for me personally than Thruxton for example and almost as far as Brands Hatch, about 200 road miles in total. The only thing I really think should have happenend is MSVR could have piggy-backed off the WSB round there as a pair of support races, a taster for the Dutch crowd alongside masses of support from the British fans who make the annual WSB pilgrimage across the North Sea,  then with a view to holding an event in its own right in 2013. I know from talking to my Dutch friends on Twitter that BSB is quite popular over there through Eurosports excellent coverage so I think it will be a success but would have preferred a more walk before you can run approach to such a major announcement.

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, 18 November 2011

British Superbikes Showdown Sunday...My View

BSB - Showdown Sunday

Even as a fully paid up Northern Monkey, I love heading to the ‘deep south’ to the beautiful Brands Hatch circuit in Kent. This was my third visit to the track and it was to watch the 2011 BSB Championship finale.  For my previous visits in ‘07 and ’08, the championship was pretty much already decided for Kiyo and Shakey, so I left the track on those occasions with an over-whelming feeling of, ‘Oh well, that was expected...’ However, for 2011 I was really hoping for something different....

In the run up to the Showdown weekend my plans were thrown in to disarray, due to circumstances beyond my control, and at one point there was a real doubt in my mind whether I would make to the races. Thanks to a great friend of mine, and an at times random Alex Briggs-style ‘in car convo’ on the way down, I made it to one of the finest race tracks in the UK for, what was to be, THE best days racing I have ever witnessed!

Those that know me well enough will know that I am a huge BSB fan and have been for as long as I can remember. The atmosphere on race day aided by the open paddocks at most circuits and access to the riders is really something for the organisers to be proud of; a big change from the days of sitting somewhere out on the banking with a ‘pack-up’, race programme, the obligatory umbrella. Even so, from this humble position we would still always reward the riders after a good race by waving and cheering them on the ‘slow down’ lap. At the end of the day we would clear our ‘pitch’ and then head home happy.

There has been much consternation with regards to the BSB Showdown rules and opinions are firmly divided, but love them or hate them they make for one hell of a show. In my opinion, the last two seasons have provided some of the highest drama ever witnessed in British Racing so from that aspect the Showdown certainly works, coincidentally both involving Tommy Hill of Swan Yamaha and formerly of Crescent Suzuki.

Tommy has been a favourite of mine since he burst on to the scene in 2003 when he won Rob Mac’s inaugural Virgin Mobile R6 Cup from Cal Crutchlow in a season of strong overtakes and high tension. I’ve followed his career closely since. During this time, Tommy has, like so many racers, had to battle through major setbacks such as serious leg injuries and, for him, the devastating loss of his close friend Craig Jones. Tommy has always fought back and it’s that grim determination and strength through such adversity that endears him to me and the ranked masses of BSB fans.

Prior to the weekend, looking at the points gap after Silverstone and the way that John Hopkins was riding, even with injury, I thought it was going to be a big ‘ask’ for Tommy to pull back the defecit over the 3 races, even at his home track in Kent, but the showdown was about to come into its own yet again.

On Saturday, Race 1 was a ‘cagey’ affair for the title contenders with Tommy’s Swan Yamaha team mate Michael Laverty underlining his race winning potential by holding off a hard-charging and somewhat in-form Josh Brookes on his Relentless Suzuki GSXR 1000, leaving Hopper and Tommy trailing in their wake. This left the 2 main protagonists to play a cat and mouse game for the duration of the race with Hopper just coming out on top by the slimmest of margins and giving us a taste of things to come on Sunday!
It was cold and damp on Sunday morning. Morning Warm-up for all classes was a difficult affair with nobody wanting to push too hard, as there were still 3 Championships to decide. Just one slightly off-line entry to a corner could result in a season’s hard work being lost in a shower of gravel and acute embarrassment.

Race 2 was the ‘marker’ for how the drama of the day was to unfold. I don’t remember ever being so nervous at the start of a race! The pressure was on Hopper more than Tommy, who was chasing a points deficit this year rather than defending an advantage. I referred to Tommy as ‘the hunter not the hunted’ as I tweeted my followers in the run up to the weekend. A much better position to be in in my opinion.

The drama came earlier than anyone thought in the first race of Sunday with John Hopkins pulling to the side of the track due to an engine misfire at Druids on the opening lap, leaving the pack to stream away. Surely, this was not going to be another Championship slipping away from Crescent Suzuki? It brought back the memories of Chris Walker in 2000 at Donington Park; one of my worst days ever as a Stalker fan and also memories of last year with an over-eager Tommy clashing with James Ellison at Lodge Corner, Oulton Park. This was an incident that ultimately cost Tommy and the team the title. It seemed for a brief moment that it just wasn’t going to be Crescent Suzuki’s day again!

Hopper managed to get the big Suzuki going again and set about chasing down the riders in front of him, picking them off lap by lap in a display of sheer aggression and knowing that every point was vital if he was going to clinch the title. Meanwhile, Tommy rode a good mature race by not getting too involved with ‘dices’ and settling for a safe but solid 4th place behind, a returning and impressive James Ellison. Despite his best efforts, Hopper could only manage 12th after a stunning run. This left just a 2 point gap between Hopper and Tommy for the 2011 British Superbike Finale.  The 2011 BSB Championship title was going to be down to which of these two riders crossed the line ahead of the other!

I was watching the races from the back of the paddock looking out onto Surtees corner with Clearways/Clark Curve over to my right and, in amongst various mechanics, tyre techs and support staff from various teams, benefiting from a big screen TV on the banking opposite.

This was the race I had waited for all season. This was the race that I wanted BSB to be all about. The tension and atmosphere was electric and, as the race got under way, it was a case of watching the laps tick down and keeping my fingers crossed that everyone stayed on and finished fair and square. These seemed to be the longest laps of a race that I have ever seen. It was as if I was watching the race in slow-motion as Shakey demonstrated his Brands superiority with another fabulous ride away at the front, leaving Tommy and Hopper to ‘duke’ it out behind.

The blue touch paper was lit on the penultimate lap right in front me on the entrance to Surtees. Hopper had been strong there all day and it was almost expected that this would be his place of choice for an overtake manoeuvre on Tommy to get up to 2nd place, but more importantly, into a title-winning position ahead of his Yamaha-mounted rival. What was to unfold was simply THE best final lap of racing I have ever witnessed in a British Championship event.

I’m trying to remember my feelings as the boys traded places on that last lap, but I simply can’t put them into words. Standing at that fence willing Tommy on with all I had, seeing his foot slip in that brave move at Dingle Dell and then leading up through Sheene Curve and down to Clearways; another corner where Hopper was visibly quicker than Tommy. I honestly believed, at that point, that the Crescent Suzuki was going to make it to the line first; that is until Hopper ran wide for the one and only time during the race, at almost the very point Tommys great pal Jonesy had lost his life, and the Swan Yamaha dropped an extra gear to get every last ounce of power to the line ahead of the Crescent Suzuki. It did it. Tommy had done it! The 2011 BSB Championship Title was 0.006s! Incredible!!

I went absolutely crazy. I was so happy for Tommy and his family. For once I had supported the bloke who won the title and I had said he would do so since Round 1, Race 1. It’s not a regular occurrence for me, I have to say, but the reaction from the crowd and people around me put me in no doubt that the right man had won.

The ghosts of ill-fated WSB / WSS rides, the femur breaks and all the other setbacks disappeared for Tommy as we took in what we had all just witnessed. This was the Race of The Decade.

I was up on the fence as the victor took the adulation on the ‘slow down’ lap, keen to share my unbridled joy and pride for a job well done. It’s not something I would normally do, as I normally pick the wrong riders as I said earlier, but I couldn’t help myself. I don’t mind admitting that I had misty eyes as he gave his gloves to two young fans and was presented with his one-off British Champion Shoei helmet at Graham Hill bend. It was a very, very emotional occasion.

I was fortunate enough to make it in to pit lane for the 2011 BSB Championship Title presentation and there was nowhere in the world that I would rather have been at that time. The chants of ‘Tommy, Tommy, Tommy….’ from the assembled crowd said all you need to hear about the popularity of #33. I don't think I've ever seen a more popular British champion in all my 34 years of following our sport.

Amongst all of this tribulation though, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Hopper.  He looked a broken man. His disappointment must have been huge after such a magnificent debut season in BSB during which he won so many new fans, his angry 'dance' at Knockhill is a favourite image to many, in the UK and over-came the demons that almost wrecked his career. Hopper is still a class above the rest in my eyes and deserves a shot in, what is becoming increasingly likely, the 2011 World Superbikes Championship hopefully with Crescent Suzuki.

With the presentation of the trophy and TV interviews over and the enormity of it all still sinking in, the sight, in the early autumn dusk, of the pit lane convoy of Pirelli trucks heading home for the final time in 2011, it made me think just how fitting an end it was to the most thrilling season in British Superbikes for 11 years. I felt totally justified for my love of the British Superbike Championship, and felt that if, for whatever reason, I were to never make it to another meeting at least I could take comfort in the fact I'd gone out witnessing something special.

I know this is a long blog, so thanks if you’ve managed to stick with it from start to finish. It really was an incredible day and one that I very nearly missed. I am so pleased to have been there. I was there on the trackside hearing the noise, smelling the smell and feeling the power of those bikes. What is must be like for the riders, I can’t begin to imagine, but I was there for the finale of the 2011 BSB Championship and the memories will live on with me for a very long time.
If you have never seen a BSB race live, make it happen in 2012. Be a part of it!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Casey Stoner - A Racing Fans Perspective

This is a subject that appears so often in my timeline and gives me most fun reading - the massively divided opinion from fans around the world regarding Casey Stoner the 2011 MotoGP World Champion.

Whilst I own up to not being his biggest fan during his LCR Honda outing on a 990 where he looked more likely to retire hurt than finish, or Ducati days where the 800 was simply made to measure and the Bridgestone tyres were trick as you like. This year has seen Casey emerge as one of the greats in MotoGP.

I had always been quite dismissive of him when in conversation with friends about the weekends racing, I was happily caught up in the Valentino Rossi show and still smile at the thought of Laguna '08, admittedly Valentino still is MotoGP to a lot of people and we have him to thank for raising the profile of our sport to new heights and bringing in fans who previously may not have bothered. I love Vale, but I loved racing before he 'arrive very very fast' and will love racing after he retires to Ibiza with his little mate. Which leaves us with the New World Order...

Casey may not be the character Valentino is with his cheeky waves, post race celebrations and animated press conferences, he is there to race and to win - nothing more - like Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner the 2 other Aussies to lift the title before him before him, he is totally focused on the job in hand and will use all his controlled aggression, grit and determination to get pole and the top step of the podium. Anything less is failure. This is the side of Casey that people see most and, after the light-heartedness of Valentino, this outlook has somewhat soured peoples impression of him.

I had a thought about this the other day. I make a living as a Flexographic Printer, its a good job with prospects and and one I enjoy but its not without its problems. The nature of the Printing Press means things can, and do, go wrong. If you were to ask me after a bad shift about my day, you would see a different side to me than my usual chirpy self and think 'what a miserable git, moan moan moan'! Why is Casey any different in his line of work - I suspect most of us are actually the same...reading on Twitter, it seems we are.

There are many similarities arising between Casey and Mick Doohan. Casey on the RC212V this season has been an absolute joy to watch, he's made shapes and pretty black lines with that Honda that Dani and Dovi could only dream of and the pure speed and controlled aggression he showed harked back, for some, to the good old days of the 500's and 990's. Mick was the same, drawing pretty black lines everywhere looking like he was velcroed to the the beast of a bike. Mick wasn't everyone's cup of tea in his era, but he had 5 world titles to back him up where Casey has 2..the same as Valentino in the 800 class.

Mick wouldn't rest in practice or qualifying until he had ground down the opposition not only on the time sheets but mentally too. Come Sunday he would continue to dominate, some days by a little, some days by a lot and he is still held in high regard with race fans across the globe...why? Whats so different? Because he wasn't competing along side Valentino...? Maybe...Mick is still ahead of Casey in the all time wins table but for how long?

This isn't a blog about how wonderful Casey is or how I'm his biggest fan, I'm not no he has his flaws, I am a fan of motorcycle racing - you know that because I told you in my first blog, it's more about appreciating what Casey has achieved this season and the 800 period and really accepting that in 2011 he came of age. MotoGP isn't all about Valentino. Yes he is an integral part, so too are Dani, Jorge, and Dovi for example - I'm not a huge fan of their's but appreciate their riding ability even if its more neat and tidy over fast and loose!

To read about people wishing Casey had fallen off or the fact that he doesn't deserve to be on the cover of the Season Review is madness, and somewhat myopic. The stats speask for themselves and if some of the stunning photo's of Casey sideways this year haven't made you go 'wow' then I truly believe you are missing the point - even a sideways Toni Elias can make me go 'wow'! Tough question but are you a race fan or a Valentino Rossi fan? You can be both...

 I know we are all different, I know we have our favourites - as i sit here I'm looking at a VR print on one wall, Chris Walker on another and Marco Simoncelli as my laptop wallpaper - but to dismiss Casey's achievements, record and style because he isn't Valentino Rossi is a little disrespectful to racing. His personality has clouded peoples judgement not his racing or phenomenal ability...have a look, you might be pleasantly surprised.

I've said this all season, with his visor shut and his mouth shut Casey Stoner is up there amongst the greats of our sport and in my reflective opinion, pound for pound probably the best racer over the 800cc period of MotoGP...

89 races, 32 Pole Positions, 33 wins and 5th in all time standings now ahead of Eddie Lawson. Impressive by anyone's standard.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The End before the End...

I'm sat here poised and ready to write my thoughts on the season just passed in MotoGP after the great and kindly response I had to my introductory blog post and regrettably I've made a full on school boy error... I thought I'd got the race set on Sky+, one of my best mates rang and I completely forgot to check. Good job Moto2 and 125s were entertaining, that will tide me over until I get to see the race later!

Until then you will just have to make do with this...

I've really enjoy the 'support' classes this year, Moto2 has been a revelation since its inception and I can only hope Moto3 follows in the same vane and all pointers say it will. With the like of Terol, Marquez, Cortese, Vinales, Zarco et al hopefully all still present for Moto3 next season its already got the hallmarks of a great first year.

In 125's it was a great season for Nico Terol but no massive surprise as he was clear favourite before the season began, but the emergence of Zarco was a nice surprise and although he will definately have learned some harsh lessons this year, the main one being 'don't look back!' he has come of age in this class and will be a real force next year. For me rider of the year is a no-brainer, Maverick Vinales - a super talent, fast as you like. Top 2 next year.

Who's my money on for next year...erm...I'll get back to you in about 12 months to see if I was right! Very very tough class to call with any of the above riders plus a handful of others all capable of race wins just adds to the interest. With a more level playing field we could see the Brit boys closer to the front, although you couldn't get Danny Webb any closer to the front this weekend could you?!

On that note, Its great to see the Brit boys getting the chances they deserve and grabbing the opportunity with both hands, they are there on merit after all - the future is bright for British racing that's a fact!

Moto2 has been a revelation again, even though the fight was somewhat spoiled by what went on in FP1 in Sepang, it was really shaping up to be a full-on battle to the last lap of Valencia. Personally, I reckon the championship trophy would have a different name on it today should Marc Marquez not have had the big spill in Sepang or his brain-out misdemeanor the week before in Phillip Island. He will learn from these and come back stronger, ominous for all!

I'm split over the two Brits in the class though, I really like Scott Redding - he has character and bags of ability but his size may be against him these days as it was on the 125s so maybe one more season in Moto2 then the step up to the big class beckons but with a new chassis next season hopefully his confidence will be strong and can convert his potential in to race wins. 

Conversely I find it hard to warm to Bradley, great rider and hugely talented but, I don't know, maybe its because he's such a different character to Scott. He was always there or there about in his last season in 125s with a handful of wins but hasn't really transferred that to Moto2 despite being trumpeted on a regular basis by the commentary teams - next year is a big year for him with the step up to MotoGP coming in 2013. More podiums required and necessary faster!

That's my short view of 125's and Moto2, I love watching them both and there are some really bright stars shining in both classes, future world champions abound and the future of the premier class looks very very rosey indeed.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


As it says above, welcome to my blog - I don't know how it's going to pan out, if i can keep it interesting enough or even if I'm eloquent enough to carry it off, in time we will see...

I have a passion. A passion for motorcycle racing. Its been with me since I attended my first meeting at Cadwell Park (aged 4 so I'm told!) and has continued unrelenting for 34 years since. There are few people in my everyday life I can truly share this passion with. Twitter is a fantastic outlet and is chock full of like minded people who share the same level of passion - and in some cases even more so, and its with these fine people in mind that I set about this blog

I do not claim to be an expert, there are far more knowledgeable than me on all matters racing but I am a fan - a massive fan truth be told - not just World level racing either. The British Championship is equally, if not more important to me and as I've said many times on Twitter 'I love MotoGP, I love WSB, hell, I even love Speedway! But I absolutely adore BSB' which just about sums me up.

I don't know whether to head in to race reports on here or what the content will entail, I would say rumour and conjecture are possible but so are just my inane ramblings but either way I'll try and keep it upbeat and entertaining. 

When I first floated the idea through the medium of Twitter in the week I was given a molten drop of pearl wisdom from @jearle which went along the lines of everyone has a thousand crap words in them but there after the quality comes. Thanks for the encouragement and advice Jared, I wouldn't be doing this now if it wasn't for you so its your fault if I fail...just kidding. With that nugget of advice in mind I will do my best to achieve something worthwhile and feel free to tell me if I'm falling short...constructively where possible!

So that's the idea of my own blog, somewhere to float my thoughts and put finger to keys on what makes this sport of ours so bloody good, so damn frustrating at times and, ultimately, on occasion so sad.

I know its a little late in the season to start but I have a few ideas knocking about to kick things off and also just have a little practice off the back of MotoGP in Valencia. I have thoughts on Marco Simoncelli and Casey Stoner which I will share at some point but for now, thanks for reading and I hope you will return regularly...if not, why not?!

If you can't follow me on my blog, follow me on Twitter @DaveNeal