Back in the day, when BSB rules embraced the desires of the manufacturers, who in return identified that the increasingly popular series was the perfect marketplace to promote their wares, the nearest thing the riders came to a Showdown was a spaghetti we
In the history of motorsport, champions had always been crowned simply by tallying up the points scored in the various races throughout any particular season and barring an odd protest or occasional failed drugs test, those with most points were declared the winners. That still happens today. Only as far as BSB is concerned, it’s a little more complex. True, the guy with most points is still declared the winner, but while not quite needing a degree in mathematics to determine who’s champion, it’s not quite so straightforward.
For a number of seasons, the various Japanese and odd Italian factory had deployed plenty of resource into BSB and hired the best riders, bought the best tyres and threw an unlimited budget at the winning post. Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda) and Gregorio Lavilla (Ducati) were a class apart in the mid-noughties and after Shane Byrne’s runaway success in 2008 aboard a Ducati, the winds of change were blowing in.
Then along came Leon Camier, the brand-new at the time Yamaha R1, and the ultra-successful GSE Racing Team headed up by Colin Wright who masqueraded as Airwaves Yamaha in the 2009 season. Between eventual champion Camier and runner-up team-mate James Ellison, they won 23 of the 26 races that season, wrapping up the inevitable crown with three rounds still to go. Job done for all concerned, but hardly conducive to a last-race thriller the crowds wanted to see.
Something needed to be done and as well as the first seeds of the current BSB rules being introduced by changing the specification of the bikes, whereby an ‘Evo’ format was trialled, thus levelling the playing field with limited electronics and mechanics, a wider-reaching solution was suggested.
Time for a change
A change in the way the championship points works was to be one solution, with a revolutionary new points scoring system introduced to determine the winner. The idea was to reduce the chances of anyone securing the title well in advance of the final round while maintaining a fair representation of a rider’s performance during the whole season. The system consisted of a ‘Main Season’, held over the opening nine rounds of the series, where riders in the top 15 of each race score points in the traditional manner (25 for a win, 20 for second, 16 for third etc.). At the end of those 19 races, the top six in the series are elevated to the status of ‘Title Fighters’ for the final three rounds (seven races) meaning that only one of these six riders can win the championship.
Each Title Fighter begins ‘The Showdown’ with a base 500 points, added to which are the ‘Podium Points’ accrued throughout the Main Season (five points for a win, three for second and one for third). Thereafter, it’s a straight race to the end of the season with no further bonus points, meaning the rider with
the most points at the end of ‘The Showdown’ is champion. Easy, innit?
The original concept featured 3-2-1 for scoring Podium Points (originally called Podium Credits) and also riders were allowed to drop two scores but that was soon phased out. And for the past eight seasons, this is the way the destiny of the British Superbike Championship has been decided. Of course, it’s had it critics over the years, it still does and the purists still maintain it’s a contrived means to guarantee a bumper crowd (and thus big gate receipts) at the circuit hosting the final round. That circuit has either been Oulton Park or since 2011 Brands Hatch, both of which are MSV tracks. MSV own the commercial rights for the series.
Others look at it as a masterstroke, inaugurated (in conjunction with the teams, remember) by the forward-thinking race and series director Stuart Higgs, who has always been of the opinion that BSB, like so many other leisure activities, is in the entertainment business and such evolution is necessary for the sport to not only survive, but prosper. And it’s true as never has there been more competition for the leisure pound.
The series needs sponsors, sponsors need fans and fans want entertainment. Sports evolve, look at T20 cricket, the football league play-offs and NASCAR – which also runs a season-ending competition to determine the winner, originally called ‘The Chase’, now it’s ‘The Play-offs’.
It’s just not cricket
Perhaps the most vociferous opponents over the years have been the riders themselves who have gone on record stating their displeasure, but those dissenting voices are fading into the background as they, like the race fans, realise that The Showdown is here to stay. But they’ve not been battered into submission. With the likes of Shane Byrne and Josh Brookes, veterans of seven Showdown campaigns each, they have come to realise that the actual concept can help them. Take Shakey for example, he’d tell anyone who would listen how horrible it was in the early days, but he’s now accepted that it has played into his favour in recent times. He’s missed races through injury in the ‘Main Season’, including of course the opening round at Donington Park this year, and still managed to quality for the Showdown whereas if it was a straight points race, he’d have been 75 points down before his season got started.
And given you’ll be reading this knowing who has been crowned champion for 2017, it could well be Byrne, who going into the Showdown had seven no scores, so if he’s boxed it off this year, he might not quite be of the same opinion.
Now anyone that knows me, knows how I like a statistic or two and having heard the cries of how unjust and artificial the system was, I took it upon myself to do the various permutations to see exactly how the various championships would have turned out had they run to the standard points tally. So, locked away in a dark cupboard for a few days, I emerged with some startling revelations. Barring one or two notable examples, virtually all the championships would have gone the way of the winner in any case, all the organisers did was made it a little more exciting.
Who will ever forget that last lap at Brands Hatch in 2011 when Hill pipped Hopkins, or Alex Lowes taking out Shakey at Assen in 2013. Tommy Hill crashing on the grid to end his 2012 title defence and the same rider crashing and burning on the Suzuki at Oulton Park the very first year the Showdown was held. And what about poor Kiyo crashing out in FP1 at Brands Hatch in 2014 to end his challenge with a broken collarbone. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that The Showdown has had its moments and will continue to do so. When it comes to entertainment, it does exactly what it says on the tin…
These two have done their bit to make 2017 an epic (and unpredictable) season of BSB.
Crashes and technical issues gave Byrne a scare pre-Showdown. Multiple champ Kiyo has had the Showdown work for and against him. Tommy Hill beat Hopper to the championship by the narrowest of margins. The depth of talent at BSB has never been so high.
Camier’s whitewash highlighted the need for the Showdown.
This man loves a good rule.
Some riders argue that the Showdown robs them of their best championship finish.
Going off this year’s results, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be champ in 2018.