When Scott Redding crossed the finish line to clinch his maiden Bennetts British Superbike Championship victory at Donington Park, his name completed a list that cements BSB’s first half century of winners – Redding being the 50th victor since the modern version of the championship began in 1996.
We’ve had one season when no less than six riders claimed a first victory, and five seasons when not a single new winner stood on the top step of the podium. On average, though, a new name goes down in history as a BSB winner twice a year.
But we’re already beating that average in 2019 with three new winners emerging from the opening five races in the form of Josh Elliot, Tarran Mackenzie and winner #50, Scott Redding.
Alain Prost, four-time F1 World Champion, famously said race wins are more important than world titles. They certainly do a lot for the public perception, which can have such a bearing on a career.
What’s more memorable? A super consistent season en route to third in the championship, or an erratic year peppered with spectacular race wins and DNFs? Surely, it’s those unforgettable wins which the trackside fans, television viewers and team bosses remember most fondly.
A first win means so much for so many reasons. Whether it’s the financial bonus (some say Alvaro Bautista is on a 100,000 Euro bonus per win in World Superbikes this year), the 25 championship points, the five podium credits or the psychological opening of the floodgates. Redding is a perfect example, romping to his second and third victories the day after his first.
Back to 1996
Rewind to 1996. It was a year of divorces, be it Diana and Charles or Take That. On Sunday, March 31, with the late Keith Flint’s Firestarter at number one in the charts, BSB was beginning a new dawn under equally new ownership.
Former 500cc Grand Prix star (and father of winner number 49) Niall Mackenzie took the iconic Cadbury’s Boost Yamaha to the season-opening victory at the same Donington Park where Redding would take the 50th win on his Be Wiser Ducati 23 years later.
Scotsman Mackenzie’s victory marked the start of a 17-race run on the podium. Guess which song replaced Firestarter as number one? Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack – rather appropriate for the year a British GP star came home and won.
After his team-mate, James Whitham, highsided in front of him, forcing the Scot onto the grass, Race 2 went the way of Terry Rymer on the Old Spice Ducati. The first race day of the new era was over, with BSB’s first two winners crowned.
"I was confident I could do the double," Mackenzie laughs. "It was my wife Jan’s birthday, so a nice little bonus for us both that night! James won twice as many races as me that season but I knew I had to be consistent.
"I really enjoyed being with James and our wives got on very well. Winning the first championship meant a massive amount to me." Whitham's own first win came soon after, at Oulton Park, but carried a very different meaning for the man who has become the TV face of BSB.
"For about eight months I’d been having chemo for my first bout of lymphoma," he says. "I went into the '96 season bald, unfit and wondering whether I’d be alright. It turns out I was. I won at Oulton and I knew I’d be alright, that I could ride as well as before. My overriding feeling was, 'Thank f*** I’m not gonna have to get a proper job again.'"
Like father, like son
The Mackenzie family came tantalisingly close to bookending the magic half-century as the first and fiftieth winners. As it turned out, Tarran took win 49 (almost 48) aboard the McAMS Yamaha when he clinched victory at the opening Silverstone round earlier this year.
This makes the family the only one boasting father and son winners in the modern era of BSB. Of course, Ron and Leon Haslam have also celebrated great success in the championship, although Rocket Ron’s wins came pre-96. As for The Pocket Rocket, Leon’s 46 victories put him third in the all-time rankings as he upholds honours for the household Haslam name.
"I remember my first win well," he says of his Brands Hatch victory in 2004 on the Renegade Ducati. "Nori Haga and I were in the World Championship but we did a BSB wildcard. In World Superbikes it was the first year of the Pirelli control tyres, but BSB was still open. We competed against factory Michelins and Dunlops.
"Pirelli had never won in an open championship. There was really heavy rain. I was struggling in eighth or ninth but, as it started to dry, the Pirellis were amazing. I went from six seconds behind with two laps to go to six seconds ahead at the end! Good times."
But one swallow doesn’t make a summer. This is proven by the fact that, of the 50 winners, only 15 have claimed British or World Superbike titles during their careers, to date. It’s proof, if proof be needed, of the ultra-competitive and unforgiving nature of what is globally recognised as the best national Superbike series.
With varied tracks influencing diverse results and, since 2010, the Showdown format making it highly likely that the fight will go down to the final race meeting, if not the very last race – it’s a tough series.
The 2011 finale between John Hopkins and eventual champion Tommy Hill has gone down as one of the most dramatic and spine-tingling climaxes of all-time – everything decided by six thousandths of a second on the last lap of the last race of a 26-race campaign.
Of the 50 winners, five of them moved on from BSB to triumph on the international stage as World Superbike Champions: Troy Bayliss, Neil Hodgson, Tom Sykes, Sylvain Guintoli and Jonathan Rea.
And let’s not forget Leon Camier, whose dominant 2009 triggered The Showdown, or Alex Lowes who heroically beat the great Shane 'Shakey' Byrne to clinch his 2013 title. Jonathan Rea and Cal Crutchlow bagged 'only' five and two BSB wins respectively, but never intended to stick around.
However, their very nature as persistent, determined, dogged learners was crafted in the British paddock. JR has become the most successful WSB rider ever, with a record four titles and 73 wins thus far, while Crutchlow is a MotoGP superstar and the man who ended Britain’s 35-year drought in 2016, winning the Czech GP and becoming the first British premier class race winner since Barry Sheene in 1981.
An international flavour...
A small band of men have won BSB races while not hailing from the British Isles. In fact, over nearly a quarter of a century, only nine non-Brits have won BSB races, with 82% of the winners being home-grown talent.
Australia has tried the hardest to knock the Brits off the perch, with Troy Bayliss, Josh Waters, Josh Brookes and Jason O’Halloran all taking scalps. But the closest challenger to Byrne's record 85 wins came from much further afield: Japan’s Ryuichi Kiyonari sealed 50 BSB wins, while fellow Japanese rider Yukio Kagayama added another seven.
"My situation was kind of unique. I’d come into BSB after two poor years in the World Championship," Josh Brookes said. "It just felt like a significant time and point for me.
"I had had such a bad period of time, trying to go from Australia to Europe, then ended up in BSB in such a turbulent fashion that the first win was particularly memorable because that was the moment that I thought that I was on track for setting the record straight.
"Also, being Thruxton it was already a circuit that I liked. I got my first BSB podium there the year before. At that time, I had been living in England for a couple of years and at the time I was living down south, so that day I had a few friends at the circuit."
France, Spain and the USA are the only other countries to have delivered BSB winners thanks to Sylvain Guintoli, Gregorio Lavilla and John Hopkins.
Old school heroes
But for many, the most memorable days are the earliest. 1997 brought the greatest number of new winners in any season, with Chris Walker, John Reynolds, Sean Emmett, Iain MacPherson, Ian Simpson and Michael Rutter all taking the chequered flag first.
Reynolds took two titles in 2001 and 2004, while Rutter is the highest-placed race winning rider never to have won the crown. He won 27 BSB races, putting him sixth on the list, while his 99 podiums leave only record six-time Champion Byrne, Brookes, Reynolds and Haslam ahead of him.
So what's next?
It’s taken almost 25 years to produce 50 BSB winners thanks to a combination of one or two-men dominated title races, or open battles that went down to the wire.
The championship has evolved and will continue to do so, whether it be technical modifications (like when the bikes were stripped of electronic riding aids) or ingenious rule changes (like The Showdown, which divided opinion but certainly added to the drama).
In whichever direction the British Superbike Championship heads, you can be sure it will continue to pride itself on what it likes to do best: provide the most hard-fought, entertaining and unpredictable motorcycle racing on Earth. Roll on the next 50!
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