Trackside Tuesday: The Showdown at Brands Hatch

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Last weekend I attended my first race meeting since 2019, shooting photography at the final round of the 2021 British Superbike Championship, at the iconic Brands Hatch circuit.

Interestingly enough, British Superbikes at Brands Hatch in 2008 was the first event I attended with a media pass outside of the Isle of Man.

That particularly weekend didn’t go very well after heavy overnight snow on Saturday brought about the cancellation of racing. The organizers did manage to reschedule the race weekend later in the year, which I attended but I haven’t been back to Brands Hatch since.

When the Isle of Man government started to relax the islands COVID border restriction this year, I decided I was going to try and make it to a round of the British Superbike Championship.

Plans to attend a couple of early rounds didn’t come-off for various reason, so I decided to go to Brands Hatch for the culmination of the BSB Showdown.

For the benefit of those not familiar with the showdown format, I shall try my best to explain it. In 2009 the championship was dominated by Leon Camier who won 19 of the 26 races, claiming the crown with 4 rounds to spare.

Understandably, interest in the remaining rounds dropped dramatically. Keen to avoid a repeat in the future the organizers introduced the new showdown format for the 2010 season.

The championship was effectively split into two parts. The first being a traditional format with points available for the top 15 places.

In addition, the riders finishing on the podium would gain podium points, 3 points for a win, 2 points for second place and 1 point for third. From the 2014 season the podium points were changed to 5, 3 and 1.

At the end of the first part of the season, the top six riders in the standings would have their points reset to 500 points each with any podium points added to their total and those six riders would be able to fight for the title over the remaining three rounds.

For the 2021 season, this was changed to the top eight riders with their points reset to 1000 points plus any podium points.

The format has its detractors, but there is no doubting it has produced some exciting championship endings, most notably in 2011.

That year, in the final race of the season, Tommy Hill and John Hopkins fought out a race-long battle, whoever finished in front of the other would be the champion.

Hill took second place in the race from Hopkins, who finished third, by just 0.006s and won the championship. You can watch the final nail-biting lap on YouTube.

Coming back to the 2021 season, and Australian Jason O’Halloran has dominated the first half of the season, taking 11 wins on his McAMS Yamaha, and building a healthy lead of more than 100 points.

Unfortunately for O’Halloran, the showdown part of the season has not been kind.

After the showdown rules were applied his lead was 30 points from teammate Tarran Mackenzie, two crashes at the Oulton Park round of the showdown left him trailing in the championship by two points to Mackenzie. After the Donington Park round O’Halloran had conceded even more points to his rivals.

Heading into the final round, the showdown format had turned the championship on its head and only 21 points separated the top four riders.

Mackenzie led O’Halloran by 10 points, VisionTrack Ducati rider Christian Iddon was 5 points back on O’Halloran with Oxford Products Racing Ducati’s Tommy Bridewell another 6 points behind Iddon.

With three races over the weekend, anyone of the four riders could take the title.

The opening race of the weekend on Saturday afternoon provided a fantastic battle with Mackenzie holding off Bridewell to take the win and extend his lead to 22 points with two races left. The victory meant that a win in Race 2 on Sunday afternoon would give Mckenzie the title.

A huge crowd turned up on Sunday, and we were treated to a fantastic battle in Race 2 between Mackenzie and Bridewell.

Bridewell lead for most of the race, but Mackenzie steadily reeled him in. Going into the final lap Mackenzie squeezed past on the exit of Paddock Hill bend. A few corners later at Surtees, and Bridewell was back in front.

As the pair approached the final corner, Bridewell took a defensive line, Mackenzie – anticipating the move – took a slightly wider line and was able to dive up the inside and crossed the line 0.087’s ahead to take the win and clinch his and the team’s first British Superbike title.

I had decided not to go out on track for the race and instead stayed in pit lane gambling that Mackenzie would win, and I would be able to capture the reaction of his team. I’m happy that the gamble paid off.

For the final race, I went back out on track and once again we were treated to another race-long battle between Mackenzie and Bridewell, and once again Mackenzie came out on top to claim a hat trick of wins.

It was great to get back to a race track and blow off the cobwebs. Hopefully in 2022, I will be at more meetings and back on the hedges of the Isle of Man for TT 2022. Until then.

Photos: © 2021 Tony Goldsmith / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved