For good reasons or bad, all eyes in the upcoming Bennetts British Superbike season are on two men - Josh Brookes and Scott Redding.
Paul Bird has put together what many believe to be the strongest BSB team since Mackenzie and Whitham, or Haslam and Lavilla if you’re not yet of a certain age.
Brookes is current favourite for the title, of that there is no doubt. Experience, attitude and the Panigale V4 should be a package better than the one on which he took the 2015 title. The only problem could come when he rubs up against the forthright Be Wiser team boss as neither suffer fools gladly…
On the far side of the garage sits Redding. The Gloucestershire rider has been written off in some quarters and the keyboard warriors have him as some sort of no-mark who hasn’t got a chance. Kids, this is the guy who came second in the 2013 Moto2 championship beating current MotoGP riders Tito Rabat, Franco Morbidelli, Taka Nakagami, Johann Zarco and Hafizh Syahrin.
Redding is no mug. During his first test at Jerez - new bike, new tyres, new brakes, no electronics, familiar circuit - his unofficial time was a second slower than Jonathan Rea’s WorldSBK lap record. Of course, Redding has to learn some new tracks this season and it might be squeaky bum time at Knockhill for example.
But, like his team-mate, he is an ex-motocrosser, so the lumps and bumps of Oulton and Cadwell shouldn’t prove too much of a problem to a rider who is essentially world class and had been at that level for a decade before he was exiled.
In terms of other title contenders, Tarran Mackenzie began slowly last year and built up to be a regular podium contender. With the continuity of team in 2019, he will absolutely be a challenger from the word go. McAMS just need to get a little more reliability from the engines as more than ten let go last year.
Bradley Ray did the opposite to Mackenzie, starting 2018 with a shock double win and then slipping away towards the end. Chopping around with different bike specifications and tyres for Suzuka testing and the race will not have helped one with so little experience but, like Mackenzie, he again has continuity for 2019.
And then there is the tricky subject of his TBC team-mate. It looks most likely to be Loris Baz but a surprise from Japan could just be a flight away. Baz is talented, knows some of the tracks and is a lively guy paddock side.
Peter Hickman stated last year he is a BSB rider who happens to be fast on the roads, and not the other way around. Trouble with the new rear tyre in 2018 saw him struggle in qualifying but the Smiths BMW man’s race pace was unquestioned. A new and super-trick S1000RR might be enough to put him right at the front from the word go.
Christian Iddon is in the same situation as Hickman with the new bike, so two decent tests in Spain before season commence should also put him in the mix.
And last, but not least, there is Glenn Irwin. The Irishman has been released from the pressure hammer that is Paul Bird and is now in a more relaxed environment which should help him in his quest for wins and, eventually, a title.
There are at other riders who are strong challengers including Jason O’Halloran, Danny Buchan, James Ellison, Andrew Irwin and Xavi Fores. The latter is highly-rated by Leon Camier, for one, so should do well but there is fear it could be another Giugliano situation, not a Lavilla one.
Dark Horse: Tommy Bridewell. The strawberry blonde rider found his spiritual home halfway through the 2018 season when he was wheeled in to Moto Rapido Ducati amid a fanfare of sarcasm and irony. Three podiums later, he picked up the Riders’ Cup gong and, way more importantly, was voted BSN BSB Rider of the Year.
Bridewell keeps the same squad, headed by the inimitable Steve ‘Wilf’ Moore, but changes to the Panigale V4 so will have, give or take, the same equipment as Brookes and Redding, and team as equally-smart as Be Wiser Ducati around him.
Away from the title chase, there are some rumours that series boss Stuart Higgs wants to inject a little more pizazz into the show but how that will manifest is anyone’s guess. One paddock wag suggested an hour’s stand-up routine by Neil Spalding at each round…