A change around from the usual format to Straw Bales, in the lull of MotoGP action between Brno and Misano, and finally the calming of 'Silly Season', we can concentrate on the weekends action at Donington Park and British Superbikes for a change, looking in to the Showdown stage of the Championship.
For those of you unfamiliar with the format of the British Superbikes Showdown, this weekends meeting at Donington Park was the last round that made up the 'regular' season. The top six riders in the championship now move forward to a level playing field of 500 points, and on top of those 500 points are added the podium credits earned during the season - 3 credits for a win, 2 for second and 1 credit for third - all designed to reward the more consistent riders with a deserved advantage in the second part of the Championship.
The system has its flaws though, for example Team WFR Honda's Alex Lowes finished sixth in the championship's regular season on 146 points, a full 206 points behind leader Tommy Hill who'd scored 352. Once the Showdown rules and podium credits are applied, Alex is now only 33 points behind Tommy in the race for the title, where one race DNF by the current leader can throw the championship chase wide open - which, obviously, is the very aim of the format.
As well as Alex Lowes' deserved slot in the Showdown, a special mention to Supersonic BMW's Tommy Bridewell - for a team in its first season in BSB with almost the forgotten rider of the series, after being without a ride in the Championship at the start of the season, a fantastic effort by all concerned see's the Italian team in with a shout of the title with quite possibly the most improved rider of recent years in Bridewell, a great story with a potentially very happy ending.
Just as an example though, should the traditional championship chase still be in effect, Swan Yamaha's Tommy Hill would still lead the championship on 352 points from the Tyco Suzuki-mounted Josh Brookes on 326 with the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki of Shane Byrne effectively almost out of the running 97 points behind Hill, leaving it a straight fight between the top two over the last three rounds. That's still the case but now with a much narrower gap... It is harsh on the leader going in to the second phase really, after all their hard work and consistency seeing a massive advantage over some of the chasing pack wiped out just adds extra pressure to the situation. However, this is what MSVR wanted, to provide the paying fans with unrivaled entertainment in what is undoubtedly the premier domestic championship in the world and after last season you can't argue that it doesn't provide just that.
As for who will win the title come Brands Hatch in October, it's a very difficult call, not just for the reasons explained above either. If none of the 'Title Fighters' suffer a DNF, for me personally, I think Josh Brookes has his tail up after his double pole position, double fastest lap and double win at Donington yesterday, an impressive showing by anyone's standard, and will carry that forward to Assen and beyond. Tommy Hill looked a little jaded, giving 100%this weekend as he always does he couldn't lay a kangaroo skin glove on the increasingly likeable Aussie, a massive turnaround from Hill's similarly dominant display at Cadwell Park two weeks prior. Hill was chasing set-up all weekend, suffering chronic lack of grip (as opposed to team-mate Nori Haga who was suffering lack of glip, apparently) so confidence was not at it's highest throughout the meeting, a total contrast to Brookes who showed a rare moment of emotion in Parc Ferme after race two, a mark of just how much he's matured this year, both as a person and a rider.
As a side note to that, I was fortunate enough to speak with Josh in the Paddock after qualifying, I was honest with him and said I'd been one of his harshest critics in the past but was really impressed with how he'd gone about his racing this year and how he was showing more character and maturity and that my opinion of him had changed for the better. He seemed genuinely appreciative of what I was saying - not that my opinion counts too much being just a race fan - but I'm sure I'm not the only one that has done an about-turn in their opinions of him. I also said something else to Josh, but I'll keep that back from you lot until after Brands Hatch...
Tommy has the experiences of last seasons epic Showdown with John Hopkins to draw on to combat the threat of Brookes and I think that will be invaluable as the story of the season unfolds. You know my thoughts on Tommy from my blog covering the Brands Hatch finale of 2011, he will always be a favourite of mine - well as close as I can get to having a favourite whilst accepting all other riders too, well they're all bloody good aren't they?! However, it's a split between head and heart for this one whereas last year it was Tommy all the way as I didn't want the 'dentists dream' to come over here and deny any of our boys the glory, just like the Trans-Atlantic Trophy races in days of yore, it was anyone but the Yank! Head says Brookes but heart says Hill...and your heart shouldn't rule your head!
I'm not totally discounting Shane Byrne either who is well in the mix just 12 points back from fellow-southerner Hill, but just how well he will cope with his shoulder injury remains to be seen. Shoulder injuries are notoriously difficult to fix quickly and these next three tracks are high-speed maximum effort tracks so we wait and see just how much 'Shakey' can affect the top two before his home round at Brands Hatch. He says he'll be fit for Assen but his fit and our fit are light years apart, add to that the notorious bluff and bluster of just how serious the injury was we won't know the true extent of his fitness until FP1 in Holland.
Samsung Honda's Michael Laverty is 21 points back in fourth place, by no means out of the chase and also showed good form at Donington Park with a third and a second place so he is another carrying high confidence for the series debut at Assen on 21-23 September. Last year at this point on the sister Swan Yamaha he was 19 points back of Hill with three rounds remaining but a gravel trap excursion, after a coming together with Byrne, at Donington and a DNF in the second of three races at Brands Hatch put paid to his championship charge and he is desperate to make amends for that in 2012.
Looking at the comparison of the same point both last year and this, Brookes is the one who's greatly improved his position over 2011, finding himself just 10 points behind the leader over the 20 point deficit of last year. Tommy is 3 points to the good, Shakey is 5 points worse off and MLav 2 points further back than this time last year. Looking at the results over the final three races (remember Donington Park was the first round of the Showdown last year) of the first ever Showdown it was Tommy Hill who top scored with 118 points and no DNFs in the six races, Shane Byrne with 103 courtesy of a double victory on the final day with Laverty on 91 and Brookes the lowest scorer with 89, a DNF and distant sixth on the final day spoiling his previously consistent season. But that was last year...this is now, and its going to be an emotional roller-coaster for all concerned - riders, fans and team members alike, make sure you watch as it's a sight to behold and likely to go to the very last race, will we have the same drama as last season? Probably...
Over in MotoGP land we had a fantastic race in the Czech Republic at Brno. You may remember, if you've paid attention in previous blogs, that I pointed to Dani Pedrosa as a dark horse for the Championship.
After the unfortunate injury to Casey Stoner's ankle that's ruled him out for the foreseeable future, many fans were throwing their arms up and saying 'well we might as well give Jorge the title now'...how wrong they were!
Since Silverstone Dani Pedrosa has consistently appeared on the podium in the seven races from the British round to the latest round at Brno, the DNF at Assen was undoubtedly costly to Lorenzo's title aspirations as it's seen Dani close the gap on his rival taking 147 points to Lorenzo's 130, but its the sequences of the race results that make the most interesting reading.
If you take the championship from Sachsenring, the Mallorcan and the Catalan have been inseparable on the podium finishing either 1/2 or 2/3 in the last five rounds, again with Pedrosa coming out on top scoring 111 to Jorge's 105 points. Without question the impetus lies with the diminutive Repsol Honda rider, this is the first season in his MotoGP career that Dani has started, and remained, fully fit and doesn't it show - winning three of the last five races including a memorable back to back at Indy and Brno.
If anyone thought the title was over and done, re-read that paragraph again. It is between these two riders and on this form, barring any injury/DNF, it will go down to the final race at Valencia in November in front of a partisan crowd, that itself would be fantastic for the sport as a whole and for the fans, who've been starved of a true down-to-the-wire championship battle since Nicky Hayden took the crown at Valencia in 2006!
I've no doubt Casey will return for Phillip Island, if not sooner and it's a mouth-watering prospect to see him wringing the neck of that RCV213V there for the very last(?) time. Valentino won there by 15 seconds in 2003, who'd bet against Casey doing the same this year just to prove a point? Honourable mention to Suzuka 8-Hour winner Jonathan Rea who deputises for the crocked Aussie at Misano and Aragon, a fantastic opportunity for the Northern Irishman to stake a claim on a seat for next season and if testing is anything to go by, he's doing that just fine.
After Dovi's not unexpected signing for Ducati, Ben Spies has unexpectedly signed for the Ducati Junior squad to campaign a factory GP13 next year alongside Moto2's own 'Crazy Joe' Andrea Iannone. Ben shares the same Superbike-derived style as Nicky Hayden who, all things considered, has gone well on the much-maligned GP18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124 (just kidding) and I think he'll do ok as he too has a point to prove after being bumped by Yamaha management to make way for the return of Valentino Rossi.
Cal Crutchlow will partner Bradley Smith in Team Rosbif, the irony of two Brits spearheading a French team not lost on the paddock comedians. This is good news for Cal and he rode the M1 accordingly at Brno securing his first MotoGP at a track he's traditionally excelled at.
Team Gresini is the final piece in the jigsaw of silly season, what of Alvaro Bautista? With Scott Redding a reported favourite to take a seat at Honda's second table and Johnny Rea doing his best to gatecrash the party it may be a while yet before that particular piece is put in place.
A quick nod in the direction of World Superbikes, the Nurburgring proved a happy hunting ground for the Brit Pack yesterday with admirable performances from Tom Sykes, Eugene Laverty, Leon Camier and Chaz Davies...yes Chaz Davies came of age in WSB this weekend with a third place in race one and a fine maiden win in race two, fully deserving his place for next season with the BMW Italia squad, true title contenders.
I mentioned Leon Camier too, another rider who, like Josh Brookes, I've been critical of in the past - however after watching yesterday my opinion is changing, two very mature rides and a bagful of deserved points for his efforts. Keep it up Leon, another rider I'm happy to be wrong about.
The championship fell wide open too at the Nurburgring with Biaggi falling in race two, Checa falling but remounting in race one and Melandri incredibly recording two DNF's leave the standings with Biaggi still on top from Melandri but Sykes has closed the gap in third to 26.5 points with 4 races left, all to play for!
As always thanks for reading.