It may be a long way off to the start of the British Superbike season – and it’ll seem even longer with a predicted cutback in pre-season testing. But that hasn’t stopped talk in the MCN office about BSB’s prospects for 2009.
There’s no denying that in the past two seasons, BSB hasn’t just lost its top riders, it’s lost its main characters.
But instead of being negative about losing Shane Byrne's cutting wit, Jonathan Rea’s blunt honesty, Cal Crutchlow’s devil may care attitude and Ryuichi Kiyonari’s cheekly chappy persona, let’s look at what’s going to make BSB 2009 become a banner year.
There’s no doubting the talent of people like Suzuki’s new recruit Sylvain Guintoli, HM Plant Honda’s Glen Richards and the emerging Leon Camier. There’s no doubt we’re going to see some great racing.
But for me it’s the sub plots I’m looking forward to seeing unfold. Teams will tell you it’s only winning the title that matters but I reckon there’s going to be some personal scores to settle too.
The obvious one is the fight to be the top Yamaha team. A lot of people might have written off Rob McElnea’s Scunthorpe–based when GSE Racing announced their intentions to switch from Ducati to Yamaha in 2009.
After all McElnea’s team have come up short in recent years while GSE Racing has won titles. But to write them off so early this year would be churlish.
What makes the rivalry between these two teams even more intense is that McElnea, for some time, has been critical of Ducati’s method of building ready-to-race bikes in the factory and selling/leasing them, while the teams running Japanese bikes have to build their race bikes in-house from stock road bikes.
‘Show us your V5’s,’ was McElnea’s challenge to the Ducati teams last year and it stuck in the craw of some running the v-twins.
Wright? Well he doesn’t give a monkeys about his rivals teams does he? His focus has, and always will be, on his own team. For him it’s about getting his job done.
Well that’s what he says. But I’m not so sure. Even the hardest man of BSB must think about his rivals, mustn’t he?
McElnea and Wright almost came to blows last year. At least McElnea – in a rare fit of anger - was so incensed about ??? that he offered Wright out the back of the garages to sort out their ‘differences.’
No team managers were harmed in that little fracas you’ll be pleased to know, but you’ve just got to expect that both parties won’t have forgotten that incident completely and that they will both be going that extra mile to earn bragging rights.
GSE Racing have one of the best-crewed teams in BSB, they also have two riders who are more than capable of winning races.
A lot of people are saying GSE might come unstuck because they’ve got to build bikes from scratch, but can we take that seriously? These guys are professionals who leave no stone unturned.
They have factory support. Do you seriously think they will be lacking in any department?
And there’s no doubting Camier’s or James Ellison’s ability to win races.
The only issue I can see is that it is a brand new motorcycle and even the might of Honda, typically takes one season to iron out the bugs before winning the title in year two. Winning in year one will be a tough call.
McElnea’s team has re-grouped with new backing and bounced back with a three-man superbike team that you would have to say has to be one of the most competitive in the series. Well that’s my view.
Okay, Chris Walker and Michael Rutter might both be on the ‘more experienced’ end of the rider line-up but that could reap dividends developing the new R1.
Only time will tell if Graeme Gowland is the great untapped talent we all think/hope the former Spanish 600 champion might be.
But the real bonus for McElnea’s unsung but, exceptionally competent, crew is not only do they know how to put a competitive superbike together – they have experimented with unconventional firing-order engines in the past.
And they all have the added motivation of wanting to prove a point after several years of what if’s and if only’s.
I like this whole idea of sub-plots because if you dig just a little deeper you’ll already find that McElnea’s team aren’t just worried about their rivals – they’ve got a little war developing in their own workshop.
In the red corner ladies and gentleman we have Rutter on the Coca Cola Zero North West 200 bike.
In the blue corner we have Chris Walker and Graeme Gowland
And while McElnea might gnash his teeth at suggestion of any inter-team rivalry, money-man Alastair Kennedy (the Ulster businessman who brought the North West 200 and Coca Cola deals to the table) is positively loving it, gleefully rubbing his hands as he tells me there’s already big money on the table on who will come out on top of the Rob Mac Racing stable.
And all this is just within the Yamaha ranks. Take a peek at the Kawasaki, Suzuki and even Honda and you’ll see more sub plots.
Yeah, I know some of them have been there for a while but somehow, this year those little rivalries seem a little more intense for reasons I’ll be going into at a later date.
Me? We’ve not had testing yet, let alone racing, but I’m loving all this. It’s going to be one hell of an intriguing year.