BSB Brands Finale: Iddon’s season from ‘title lead to target on his back’

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VisionTrack Ducati’s Christian Iddon sits 15 points adrift in the 2021 Bennetts British Superbike title fight as Brand Hatch approaches.

Not a bad hunting ground for the final considering the mid part of his season, but potentially somewhat disappointing since the Stockport rider, who was third in the 2020 battle, began this year’s challenge firmly at the front.

“Yeah, we had a really good start to the year,” Iddon reflected, when we caught up with him mid-week. “Basically sort of felt like I could do no wrong really, at the beginning. It was going a bit too well. Even to the point that, up until race one at Thruxton, I thought Thruxton was going to be the biggest challenge for me. I’ve never struggled for pace there but I’ve just never had a result there, and then got second in the first race and genuinely thought, ‘I really can’t do any wrong, I can even get on the podium at a place it’s never been good to me!’ And then, unfortunately got involved in an incident with Lee Jackson in the second race and from there on it just seemed like I could do no right!

“So it changed very quickly,” he continued. “The mid part of the season was really difficult for me. There was only really a little bit at Cadwell, and Snetterton was probably the worst. Snett, for me, was the only place that I really didn’t feel like I had any pace. Cadwell we still had pace but just didn’t string a result together. Then all the other ones just, there was reasons behind many things but just never seemed to pull the results together.

“By that point I was reasonably secure in the showdown position anyway, so it was a case of trying to rebuild that mid part so that we could start the showdown part of the season at least feeling confident again, rather than sort of on that spiral that we were on.”

When the spiral was in motion, did he think he would be entering the final weekend still in touch of the title?

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “Obviously Jason struck such a good main championship together, that even just with the showdown points, he pulled out quite a big gap, but I led the championship from round two up until round four at Thruxton.

“Then, as I said, things started to go a bit the wrong way for us and Jason managed to accumulate a lot of points in that period. There was a lot of times when I feel, points missed that I feel like I should have had - I got knocked off out of second place at Thruxton, I got knocked off out of second place at Donington. I fell off on my own accord, out of second place at Cadwell. I fell off on my own accord at Donington when I had the dry tyres on and, it should have been. Well, there’s not ever ‘should have been a win’ but I was the only one with a dry combination, if I bided my time then that should have been a win. So there’s a good accumulation of points that I really missed out on.

“I really missed those when the showdown points situation was counted up and you realise I was quite a long way behind Jason at the start of the nine races. That’s a lot of points to make up, especially against someone who has been riding so well. But then, after Oulton, we can see how quickly those things can turn around and at the point where, each point becomes a real point, then things can change very quickly.

“To ask whether I expected to be this close? I always expect to be at the front, but that’s not how racing works all the time and I knew it was going to be hard to be this close to the front, having started so far back in the showdown, points wise. But yeah, I certainly hope to be, I don’t know if I expect to be but I’d hope to be!”

So with everything on the line for the finale, is there a different strategy coming into play, or will it be business as usual for the 36-year-old?

“No, it’s pretty boring really. All I ever say is that I’ll do my best and that’s all I ever do with every lap of every race,” Iddon explained. “As I said, what we did at the start of the year was working out really well. I think we were unfortunate in a lot of scenarios in the middle of the year and I also had a lot of other things going on that, some directly impacted my racing and still do and some I managed to sort out. It was a hard mid part, but I never changed my approach, I always gave everything that I had and I’ll always do that. I think the best way to do it is not to think too much, personally. You know, you can certainly overthink the game.

“We practice for these moments over and over again. If you suddenly change something at a critical point, then you suddenly become unpracticed at what you’re doing. Whereas if you just go out and race your motorbike to the best of your ability, then that’s what we all learn to do and I think it’s best not to change anything at this point. Obviously there becomes moments where the points situation will determine how hard to push or not push. But I think that boils down to the very last moments of anything that we do.

“The aim is clear, my personal expectations of myself are very high and the team’s expectations are very high,” he continued. “I can only control what I can control and that is my performance. Everything else is completely out my hands. I can’t control how well the other riders do, I can’t control all the other factors that happen. I can’t control the weather, I can’t control the track temperature, I can’t control how the other teams set their bikes up or how well the riders ride their bike. So all that is completely out my hands. All I have to do is turn up and bring my A game and that is literally all I can do and what the points say at the end of it, will tell the story. It’s not a story that I get to write. It’s one where a lot of other people play their part. And you’re not just talking about the people in with a chance of a championship. Obviously there’s four who are distinctly in with a shout, there’s a few more who do have an outside chance but then there’s also 20 odd other riders that all want to prove how good they are. There’s some super talented riders in there so you know there’s a lot of people with a lot of different reasons to be pushing hard.”

With his Ducati team’s expectations high, and reigning champion Josh Brookes out of contention but running strongly in the latter half of the year, does that mean team orders will be making an appearance in the final races?

“I don’t know, really,’ Iddon answered. “Obviously Josh is supremely fast around, well, supremely fast around any track but Brands Hatch has certainly been a stomping ground of his. I think he’s got the most wins of anyone around there, I’m not sure if he’s tied with Shaky but, whatever it is he’s got an unbelievable record around Brands Hatch!

“He was very fast there last year, he was the only one that was able to take it to the Yamahas last year, I wasn’t quite able to do that, and as a result he was crowned champion. So, yeah, we’re in a different scenario. Obviously the two Yamahas are both in with a shout of the championship so I can’t see they’re going to help each other out. Tommy doesn’t have a teammate, I’m the only one that does have a teammate that’s probably capable of being an assistant, but I guess that’s up to the team and Josh to work out whether they want to play it that way or not. I’ll just do what I can do and hopefully I won’t need any assistance, that’s never really the aim to be fair.”

The year has certainly been eventful for Iddon, and he’s seen his share of hard racing and controversial moves - most recently at Oulton Park at the hands of the Championship leader, Tarran Mackenzie. Brands Hatch is itself no stranger to action-packed encounters so what can we expect from the season’s climax?

“I’ve fallen foul to some hard racing a few times this year,” the Ducati rider admitted. “Even the last occasion, at Oulton Park, when Tarran didn’t leave me any space and clipped my bar and sent me off track at Lodge. I was taken down by Andrew Irwin, to be fair for a lot of the part, I felt like I was a rider with a target on me, getting run into that many times but I’m sure that everyone feels like that at moments.

“I think, within reason, the racing’s been reasonably fair but I do think there has been moves that have been put on where there’s not been enough room left or someone will pass knowing that the other rider is in a bad situation and it’s easy for them to crash. I don’t mind hard racing, it’s part of the game but I hope it doesn’t become a deciding factor and I hope that race control doesn’t have to get involved. Two times there’s been instances, involving myself where, one I thought that race control was too harsh on the other rider, and the other one were I don’t think they were harsh enough. So I’m hoping that with all the things going on, it’d be nice if we can have clean racing, so it gets decided properly.

“Hopefully everyone will give each other the respect that everyone deserves, because we’re all battling hard. I have a lot of respect for all my rivals, and hopefully I can show that with the way that I ride with them on track. Of course, there’s a lot on the line, there’s a lot at stake. We all work for this, for all our lives so, it’s a huge moment. So yes, the stakes are escalated and therefore probably the risks are going to be elevated a little bit and, maybe there’ll be a bit more elbow banging than there is normally - which is already quite a lot! - but we’ll wait to see. It depends how the weekend plays out, doesn’t it. So yeah, we’ll wait and see on that one.”