James Whitham: Irwins and the Honda are the weekend’s main event

| | British Superbikes

It isn’t often we have such an action-packed racing weekend with three main championships being fought out all over Europe. And if I’m honest, it was the Irwin brothers and the new Honda Fireblade at Donington who were for me the outstanding act - the most surprising and the most exciting.

There’s no doubt the Honda Fireblade is a great road bike. Not only did it win two out of three BSB races, but also Tom Neave Won the Stock race on Saturday as well. I don’t think anybody expected either of the Irwins or the new Fireblade to dominate the BSB race. That was the biggest surprise for me.

I think that it helped that the regulations for BSB are less complicated, let’s say, in terms of electronics than they are at World Superbike. So WorldSBK, you have to get your bike competitive with teams that have got all the electronics working over a space of time with a new bike, which is difficult. In BSB they all run a control ECU. So, they all run the same electronics package. So that’s got to be one of the reasons why the Honda has been super competitive straight out of the box, really.

Both brothers took to the bike really well. I think Andrew was probably not an obvious choice, but a predictable choice for having the Honda team to run the new blade in BSB. I don’t think his brother Glenn was. He’s had some fairly competitive bikes and hit the doldrums a little bit over the last season and a half. But it’s a fine choice by Honda because they were both really competitive. Generally, they were the fastest riders out there, and most aggressive and most wanting to win of everybody.

Andrew is he’s a great lad. You wouldn’t think he was an aggressive rider if you talked to him in the paddock. The two sides to him don’t mesh that well because he’s such a nice, laid-back, almost quietly spoken, intelligent kid. He’s very aggressive on the bike. 95% of what he does is fair, but when you are making as many moves in surprising places as he has the talent and the speed to do over this weekend, sometimes it is going to ruffle a few feathers and go wrong.

The only problem I’ve got with it is once you get one rider or a couple of riders riding fairly aggressively, well, everybody in the race starts riding more aggressive because the only way to deal with that sort of thing is you give as good as you get. So, the organisers have to be careful.

They’ve got a really fine line to walk here because what you don’t want to do is start penalising riders for every single move they make, because what you do then is make them scared of actually getting stuck in and creating some exciting racing. None of us want that. None of us want them to be sanitised to the point it’s boring. But you don’t want people so aggressive that everybody rides with that sort of abandon and aggression that it makes it more dangerous than it has to be. So, the organisers have a difficult job.

I think that the way that he quite prefers to ride aggressively and take no prisoners is probably a little, I won’t say immature, but that’s his style. He doesn’t take any prisoners, and he says he’s not going to. The only thing I would say, if people know you’re going to ride like that consistently, well, they’re going to stop giving as good as they get.

On that note, I was very impressed with the way Josh Brookes handled the Irwin interface. He was very magnanimous on screen when a lot of other riders probably would have spat the dummy.

In Portugal, I was surprised just how easy Jonathan Rea made all three races look. I realise that he’s been very, very competitive there. He’s rarely been beaten. It was his fourth pole on the trot. He made it look very easy, to be honest. Never really troubled. I think all three races went according to plan A.

I think he probably had a plan B that would have worked in plan A hadn’t. That’s the impression I got. So, that said, it was probably his best chance to be dominant for Scott Redding because Scott has now got a lot more experience in every circuit you go to. Portimao was his least experienced circuit compared to Jonathan. So maybe that’s what he had to do this weekend. It did surprise me that the ease of which he managed to pull it off.

I think it was like Jonathan has managed to do before. He doesn’t do anything that’s unbelievably better than anybody else. What he does do is have a bike that’s at least as good everybody else’s because he’s taken the time and got the intelligence to work out which tire he’s going to use. He’s done long runs.

The team know how he works and give him a bike that he’s got the way that he wants it. He doesn’t make mistakes. Even if he’s just incrementally better than everybody else on the day, that makes a big different at the end of 20 laps because he doesn’t seem to make any mistakes. It’s a package with Jonathan. That’s why I said before the season started, over the season he’s a difficult man to beat, just because he gets the best out of every situation that’s thrown in the paddock, and he doesn’t make mistakes. I think Toprak and Redding over the season are going to be his rivals.

I would say the closest race and most exciting racing of the weekend, and this is across all the classes, both at Portimao and Donington was BSB. It was certainly at Donington and probably the BSB class. At one point halfway through the third race of the weekend, seven seconds covered fifteen riders.

That is a close race. It just is a close race, especially on the bigger bikes. It was brilliant. It was really good. Perhaps the least exciting race of the weekend at BSB was probably world Supersport races, and that’s because a kid called Rory Skinner, which is my third surprising thing, dominated both Supersport races on the Colin Appleyard Macadam’s R6. Both wins were so lovely, crushing, convincing wins. He looked absolutely fantastic on the bike. Honestly, I’ve never seen anybody dominate that class like that for years and years, if ever.

He never lost the talent that we all knew he had. It just didn’t work out for him. It’s not a guarantee winning one of these Talent Cups. They don’t say that if you win that you’re going to get a Moto3 ride or a Moto2 ride or whatever. He just sort of felt there was a crack a little bit, really. In that respect, I think he was a little bit unlucky. He didn’t have any choice but to then go into British Supersport last year.

The bike wasn’t a brilliant bike. He improved as the year went on. He looked like he was running somewhere near the front by the end of the year when he got better equipment, but nobody had him down for being as dominant as what he has been over the weekend. A really inspired choice for Robin Appleyard. He’s a talented kid. We know he is, but fairly unproven in a lot of respects in the Supersport class, but Robin saw something in him and has given him the chance on probably one of the best bikes in the field and he’s doing justice.

He just cleaned up. One race he won by seven seconds, and the feature race he won by nine. That in a class that’s always been so close is night and day. So that’s a crushing defeat for everybody else.

I think as a concept we’re not producing MotoGP world champs, but we’re producing really, really top-class riders. Look at Jonathan Rea. Look at even Danny Kent or Scott Redding. Nearly won the Moto2 world championship. Cal Crutchlow. Tons and tons of good riders. Is he the one that’s going to go all the way and win the MotoGP championship? Who knows? I think he’s got everything he needs to be a very good rider. For me, really it’s too early. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s intelligent. Sometimes it’s not enough. We’ll wait and see.

I would also give a mention to Andrea Locatelli in World Supersport. We know the class has suffered a little bit in terms of getting the field over the years, because none of the manufacturers are actually producing an up-to-date, modern, state-of-the-art 600 because they don’t really sell that many on the street.

So the class is in a way a little bit of a sort of fading class. It’s close to my heart because I spent three years in it and loved every minute of it. But the way that Andrea Locatelli is smashing that championship is incredible. I think the proof is that he can be even reasonably competitive in the Moto2 class, you can do well in any other class. For me, the Moto2 class grand prix level is probably the most competitive in terms of depth of field of any racing series in the world.