The 2016 race season is underway. Bike’s ex-BSB, ex-WSB, exMotoGP James Haydon tries manfully to contain himself. And predicts three top threes
I’m a big Shane Byrne fan but for the first time ever cracks emerged last season. He no longer looked quite the force he’s been. He needed a big change and swapping to Ducati has provided it. He’s been awesome on Ducatis before and John Hopkins showed how well the Panigale can go last year. But I can’t help feeling it’s still a slightly tricky bike and although I see him winning races I don’t see him as Champ this season. Knowing Shakey I could well regret these words!
I’m very excited about Leon Haslam returning on a ZX-10R. He knows how tough it is in BSB. If he stays injury free he’s my favourite for the title. He knows the circuits already and has been honing his skills in WSB for years.
James Ellison on another ZX-10R has got to be another contender at the sharp end. Superfast and supersmooth. He just needs some luck to go his way now. He knows the bike, team and tracks inside out. It’s a big year for him. Peter Hickman (Kawasaki) has grown in stature and speed since his road racing skills developed. I see him getting the odd podium but don’t yet feel he’s a title contender.
Out of the youngsters Luke Mossey impressed me most last season. Lots of natural talent and he looked good on the Kawasaki. Hopefully a year’s experience and a winter of hard training will tell this year.
Johnny Rea was imperious on the factory ZX-10R in WSB last season and he’s my tip again. How can he not be when he looks so comfortable? A controlled opening double win (even though it was incredibly tight) was an ominous sign.
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) looked very similar to last season: a fantastic pole and an early race challenge before getting passed, duffed up and then dropping back. I wonder if it’s a mind problem rather then a machine one? His desire seems to evaporate once he’s been passed.
Chaz Davies (Ducati) had a terrific end to last season and will do his share of winning again. As good as Chaz and the Panigale are, it often looks slightly tricky on the limit, with a narrower band to dance in.
I can’t get my head round Ducati’s Davide Giugliano. He’s got the speed but he’s so inconsistent and often does the silliest things. He wants to beat everyone to every apex, even if it costs him (and the pack) time and even if the consequence is that someone escapes in front. He’s got to think more. It’s a make or break year for him.
I’m so excited to see the Yamahas back in WSB. Paul Bird runs a great team and the R1 is a real weapon. Sylvain Guintoli’s been out in the cold after a difficult year on the Honda but he’s a stunning rider and the Yamaha (once he gets it right) should be right up his street.
The big news this season is the switch to a standard Magneti Marelli ECU and Michelin tyres after seven years of Bridgestone. It’s a massive change, especially the tyres. But we need to touch on 2015 to understand this season because Lorenzo, Rossi or Marquez will win.
I had no problem with Rossi’s move on Marquez in Malaysia. Marc’s block-passing had cost them both time and eventually allowed Lorenzo to escape. Rossi block-passed him and ran him wide (all allowed) BUT Marquez didn’t need to turn in. He wasn’t going off. There was room. As it was, the best season in years ended up a damp squib for all but Lorenzo fans. And Formula 1 politics seeped into our sport.
At Valencia. Marc, one of the greatest overtakers of all time, a man who could pass someone in a mousehole wouldn’t make a single pass. The Spanish Armada won and sailed off holding hands into the sunset. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
Best of the Brits so far has been Cal. A new 2016 engine is on the way for him and I hope he has a good season and adapts well to the tyres. With Scott and Eugene swapping to Ducatis the jury’s still out at this point. But I’d love to see Rossi lift his tenth crown. It’s going to be really, really tough and let’s also pray it goes to the wire this time without Big Brother getting involved. Bring it on!
Words James Haydon Photos Bonnie Lane, Kawasaki Racing, Yamaha Racing