Whitham’s British Superbike silly-season-go-round

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John McEnroe’s umpire-targeted accusation ‘you cannot be serious” can often be applied to the rumour-ridden silly season, which was in full swing in the Donington Bennetts British Superbike paddock.

And it is one James Whitham who poured petrol on the fire by his Eurosport predictions as to who would be riding what in 2023. So, BSN decided to copy the McEnroe banter and challenge Superbike racing’s number one pundit to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Setting aside Brad Ray, Taz Mackenzie and Rory Skinner are desperate to get into a world series, it is the swapping of seats within BSB that is the most intriguing.

And the tale that Tommy Bridewell is switching from Oxford Racing Ducati’s team to arch-rivals PBM, and their MCE Ducati outfit is at the very least an eyebrow raiser. Why would he do that?

Whitham responded: “Well, I don’t think he’ll be getting any more money than he’s been getting at Oxford Products. He has after all been their championship contender.

“I think one of the things is that PBM, however you look at it, have got more direct links with the factory whether they’ve developed the bike or not this year. Tommy might think, and I have no evidence for this, there is more a chance of getting on what would be more of a factory-based bike and, it is rumoured, that if any new parts came out, i.e., swingarms or whatever, he gets second dibs after the factory on their World
Superbikes. I think he’s done quite a tight deal, but I think it will happen.”

BSN: And who is to replace him? We have just carried a story that one time Ducati MotoGP rider Danilo Petrucci, fresh from a successful spell in MotoAmerica, is a candidate.

Whit: Well, the other strong rumour is that he will be replaced at Oxford Products by Christian Iddon. But he and the team are remaining tight lipped even when we were quizzing him on air. He has ridden the V4 Ducati before, for PBM and rather well. He’s a good lad, speaks well and when he retires, I could be looking for a job.

BSN: And if your rumour mill is correct in that Josh Brookes is leaving to team up with Peter Hickman at FHO will Paul Bird want to run a two-bike team depending, of course, on what Tom Sykes wants to do following his double win at Donington.

Whit: I don’t think the team has ever run less than two riders and either way brings advantages and disadvantages. Two riders cost more money but in my experience the team tends to work better in terms of development and pushing each other along.

Who else could they put in if there was vacancy - no idea. Birdy has been good over the last few years, in fact all the time, to go a bit left field with whoever he chooses. He has raked in a few from World Superbikes as he has this year, and it has both worked and not worked. You never know what Birdy’s going to do.

Just to go back to Josh. It hasn’t been a year he’ll want to remember, and rumour is, and it’s a strong rumour, that he will be joining FHO. We’ve heard that he is prepared to even take a wage cut to be on different bike for at least another year and put this year to bed. And alongside Peter Hickman and a team which loves both the track and the roads, like he does, it will be making a strong team even stronger.

I don’t know whether it has a been announced yet, but the 21-year-old Charlie Nesbitt will, it seems, be staying at Buildbase - the only sketchy bit is what manufacturer? Suzuki is pulling out of all racing, and the team has yet to decide which bike is the best option and what backing can be got get from the importer.

We’ve heard a linked with BMW which, for me, would not be a particularly good move. And with virtually all the other Japanese makes but I think Yamaha have probably quite enough on its plate.

BSN: What about those who want to move onwards and upwards?

Whit: Rory Skinner looks like he going to get a little bit of help from Dorna because they are desperate for another Brit to be in the MotoGP paddock heading to Moto 2.

That’s a sort of 70/30 chance. The FS-3 team bosses are almost certain they are going to lose him, but they have already signed Lee Jackson which is a good move.

He’s not a certainty to win a championship but is always going to be there or thereabouts and who else are they going to put on it better than him. They are looking for somebody else and are keen on Iddon, but I don’t think he fancies it.

They’re also thinking of Andy Irwin and I don’t think that would be a bad thing. Managing him mentally is the main thing. If you can get him settled and not go at everything like a bull at a gate, he’s got potential.

Honda will stay with Glen. He wants to be there and they want him. And who are you going to get to do a better job. He is also a roads man and had a good TT and they put a lot of faith in his roads campaign. A strong rumour is Davey Todd.

BSN: Well, that’s good sense because he is riding really well on both
roads and tracks which makes it a good combination.

Whit: The other team we didn’t talk about was the Yamaha team because there’s not a lot been said about Rich OMG which has signed and announced Kyle Ryde. Again, Kyle has tons of talent, and he won’t be a very expensive rider coming off the season he has had.

Possibly the team will lose Brad Ray - a big possibility I’d say - because I believe he is going to end up in World Superbikes. He is going out to Portimão this weekend to schmooze a few teams which will include Yamaha and I think their manager likes him. I think he will end up in some form of WorldSBK and it would be a shame if he didn’t. That would be perfect for him, and he deserves it.

BSN: Isn’t World Superbikes getting full with one or two riders from Moto2 and very good ones?

Whit: “That’s the thing with riders like Remy Gardner. However, another team is coming in with factory backing and maybe just doing the European rounds. Once you’ve got your foot in the door and you can excel there, he’s in the right paddock.

So I think Brad will end up in World Superbikes. So that means there’s a place to be filled at OMG. Would they try to poach either O’Halloran or Mackenzie because they know how to use a Yamaha. Maybe. But McAMS would be daft not sticking to what they’ve got.

BSN: But why should anyone want to leave McAMS despite them having such an unfortunate end to the season which started with Mackenzie and O’Halloran as hot favourites and ending with both suffering injuries.

Whit: I don’t think they would, but people do daft things don’t they and you never know. I also don’t think anybody who was on a Yamaha would not want to be on a Yamaha.

The team we know least about in terms of strong rumour are McAMS. And a lot of that depends on what happens to Brad because he has Shane Byrne in his corner of doing his deals because Shane is looking at a career for him, but he is also looking for money.

He has been over to America to talk to people in Moto America about Brad and chats with PBM and linked with a few teams where he might get a big wage. To me that would be the wrong thing to do at his age because he is only 25, he has a career in front of him and he hasn’t got a big house or a fancy car. It’s more important he has the right bike and I’m sure Shane is aware of this.

BSN: And what about Taz Mackenzie? The horrible crash at Oulton resulting in a severely broken leg ended his bid to retain his BSB title but, according to his dad, has not dampened his ambition to be in WSB next year.”

Whit: “That sort of thing happened to me once and to a few others. You nearly get the chance to do something brilliant and you break your ankle at just the wrong time, or your performance falls off for some unknown reason. It’s a very weird thing and I think Taz’s chance of getting a good bike at World Superbike has possibly gone, at least for the minute.

Just to finish, the thing I was most pleased with at Donington was Tom Sykes amazing double win for the PBM team before being nudged off the track by Jason O’Halloran in race three.

You don’t want to see a team which puts in as much effort as they have done, and team owner Paul Bird, struggling. Whatever you think of his lifestyle he puts a lot of his own money, time and effort into that paddock and making it look the part.