The Ben Evans Column – Super Bikes

Bahrain Grand Prix, start, 2007Cursed ironic timing.

Last weekend – the most Motorsport-tastic of the year so far with F1, GP2, World Superbikes, British Superbikes and more – coincided with a visit from some non-F1 Fanatic friends. (Yes, I do have some).

My proposed schedule for Saturday and Sunday was rejected – admittedly it was a little Eurosport heavy and maybe WSBK Superpole live was pushing it. The Bahrain Grand Prix was swapped for a trawl round vintage clothes shops and cafes.

However with some strategic excuses I was able to catch Saturday’s GP2 race, both Porsche Supercup races and the Thruxton round of the British Superbikes on Sunday night.

At the risk of sounding sacrilegious I can’t say that I missed the Grand Prix that much. The GP2 races were their usual entertaining, carnage-filled selves, although one can’t help but feel the series is missing Lewis Hamilton.

But the real treat of the weekend was the British Superbikes – probably my favourite racing series at the moment. As a Championship the BSB is superb with a cracking rider line-up and real strength in depth.

Moto GP struggles to get 20 bikes and the WSBK can’t get 20 riders known outside their immediate family. But the BSB grid arguably has 20 competitors who could win a race. Given the heavyweight multi-million pound factory investment it is clear that the manufacturers treat BSB very seriously indeed.

BSB today is not unlike WSBK in Carl Fogarty’s heyday – an enormously popular championship (many circuits are able to survive financially thanks to the visit from the BSB) that is almost totally ignored by the mainstream media.

For the devoted Sky’s (sadly delayed) coverage is an absolute treat. With the full race card shown – not just the two Superbike races – fans are able to pick out the stars of the future and enjoy the ferociously close racing from the junior classes. The Supersport races in particular are often sensational, as is the Virgin Media Cup.

I am yet to find a more entertaining and knowledgeable commentary duo than Keith Huwen and Niall MacKensie. Both are former riders and bring their experience to the table, and their matey banter draws casual fans – a Huwen equivalent would be my dream sidekick to Martin Brundle in the ITV commentary box.

It is no surprise that the BSB is big business and refreshing to see how successful it has been in recent years. I started following the Championship in 1997 and was startled at the quality and entertainment of the racing and have ever since kept an eye on the series.

Though I worry that the current levels of investment are not sustainable I believe that there is enough of a hardcore fan base to maintain the series in the long term.

Whereas its nearest four wheeled counterpart the BTCC ever more relies on entertainment and crash value the BSB provides consistently exciting racing at an exceptional standard.

Furthermore the comprehensive and high quality coverage of the support races has ensured a conveyor belt of new stars have found works rides in recent years. Riders like Tommy Hill and Cal Crutchlow have spent their apprenticeships in the media spotlight attracting both sponsors and a fan base. Contrast this with the drivers on the TOCA support bill who are largely anonymous except to the devoted, and struggle to progress when relying on non-family finance.

BSB has effectively filled the hole left by the British Touring Car Championship at its peak by providing enormously popular entertainment on UK circuits at affordable prices.

Furthermore the Championship now arguably boasts some real household names – Chris Walker remains the fan favourite, but Leon Haslam, Gregorio Lavilla and Shane Byrne all have large fanbases. In contrast no UK based four-wheeled series has individual competitors who command that level of support.

So far 2007 has been dominated by Gregorio Lavilla, but he’s had to work hard for his wins, and hopefully we’ll get another classic year like 2006 and 2005 and 2004 and 2003 and??????

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