James Whitham: When is a jump start not a jump start?

| | British Superbikes
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When is a jump start not a jump start? And we’re talking about Scott Redding appearing to move before the lights went out at Snetterton’s Bennetts British Superbike round on Sunday.

The FIM rule book for the Superbike world championship says: ‘Any rider who anticipates the start or is not placed in his starting box will be required to carry out a ride-through penalty. The motorcycle must be stationary when the lights are turned off. Anticipation is defined by the motorcycle moving forward at the time the lights are turned off. Minor movement and subsequent stop whilst the red lights are on, the race direction will be the sole judge of whether an advantage has been gained’.

Basically, and even with the electronic assistance, it comes down to someone’s call.

Clearly Scott moved and I wasn’t the only one who thought that he might incur a penalty. Indeed, being more used to MotoGP rules I reckon that Scott himself must have thought that there might be an issue.

The PBM team obviously thought that it was questionable because as soon as the ‘no jump start’ message came up on the bottom of the timing screen in their pit two laps into the race they hung an ‘OK’ message on his board.

But I was wrong. The BSB rules mirror WorldSBK rules in this regard and they were applied by race director Stuart Higgs. He saw the replays and he made the judgement that no advantage had been gained, which is a fact. But I’ve seen penalties dished out for less…

The keyboard warriors, sorry ‘my friends’ on social media, have been hard at it with varying opinions, citing Crutchlow, saying it was a false start and Redding should have been penalised. Others saying he did not take advantage from it and therefore it was ok.

Back in my early racing days there would be a man on each row of the grid looking down a set of front wheels and it was down to him to decide if anyone had jumped the start. He had to have one eye the flag dropping or the lights going out and the other on the grid to know exactly when the wheels he was staring at (with one eye) were allowed to move.

Suffice to say it was fairly arbitrary, not least because each ‘line judge’ had a different idea of what was acceptable. So, at times it had to be a pretty big jump start to be penalised. I’ve had bikes passing me on the back wheel at 40mph and getting away with it.

None of this is to take anything away from Redding. Clearly he moved before the lights went out. But just as clearly he stopped again and took no advantage from it whatsoever. After that he rode brilliantly on yet another circuit he wasn’t familiar with. And it just does make the point that some riders of an equal standard are better at certain things.

Mick Grant once told me about Greg Hansford, a very good Australian rider, who had the ability to turn up at a circuit he had never seen before and within three laps was right on the pace. Mick said that Greg would come out of his motorhome before the first practice session and say, “Which way does the track go and what’s the lap record?” Whether it’s a photographic memory or something else, some riders have the ability to learn circuits incredibly quick.

Some circuits, like Cadwell or Oulton, do take a bit more but I must say it didn’t seem to take Redding long to learn Oulton. And unlike some riders who come into BSB from other championships he doesn’t complain about them. He just gets stuck in.

Plus the fact he’s enjoying himself because he’s winning, something he hasn’t experienced for quite a long time. He’s the type of rider who knows how to enjoy himself but when it comes to the racing he’s all business.

And he’s forcing me to change my view on who’s going to win this championship. Pre-season we all knew that Scott had the ability to win but I questioned whether he would get his head around these quirky British circuits that for the most part he’s never seen before quickly enough to be challenging for the title in his first year. I was obviously completely wrong. But I was not alone. The only other person in the Eurosport crew who gave him a shot was the non-bike racing Matt Roberts. The experts were proved wrong – again.

This is not by any means a one-horse race by the way but WorldSBK is looking like that except the horse has changed. What has happened? Well, at that start of the season when Alvaro Bautista was winning everything ,we were trying to convince ourselves that there was more than one horse by repeating that it was a long championship, Jonathan can still win it etc.

I fully expected him to win at certain circuits but what I didn’t expect was the series of crashes from Bautista resulting in a 141 point swing in four meetings. That has never happened has it?
We’ve had sixty odd point swings in four or five meetings, Edwards coming from way behind to beat Bayliss in 2002, then in 2009 Haga led the championship by fifty or sixty points from Ben Spies who went on to win. Never have I seen somebody leading the championship by sixty odd points and then, in four rounds, being 81 behind.

What has happened? Bautista has fallen off four times just when we got to circuits which suited Rea and he hasn’t messed up. And all those second places he got when the Ducati was clearing off have counted and now seem to make perfect sense. . . Bautista has won 14 races this season to Rea’s nine and yet still trails by 81 points.

Obviously Bautista is under a little bit of pressure but when he fell off the first time at Jerez you can put that down to anything. Everybody falls off from time to time, some more than others. But it must be remembered that motorcycles have two wheels not four and fall down, they want to fall down. It was a tiny mistake.

When it has happened twice more in exactly the same way (the Donington off was down to conditions), then there is a problem. Bautista seems as bemused as anyone else as to what’s going wrong. He actually said to our man Charlie Hiscott that he didn’t really know what happened in the Laguna incident. If you’re a rider of that calibre and you don’t know what’s happened that really is a problem.