The ninth round of the 2019 Bennetts British Superbike Championship has been a difficult weekend for the Honda Racing team and its riders Xavi Forés and Andrew Irwin as they fought to secure a place in the all-important Showdown. With the pressure on, all eyes were on the riders in the fight at Oulton Park.
Heading into the weekend Irwin was sitting sixth but his weekend was going to be difficult after having to start Race 1 from the back of the grid, but he showed good pace and qualified eighth fastest aboard the Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2. However in yesterday’s race disaster struck on the second lap when he crashed out of the running after a fellow competitors bike broke down in front of him. With the Showdown in his mind, Irwin returned to the garage and the race was red flagged due to oil on the track from his machine.
Following his decision to return to the garage the 25-year old wasn’t allowed to restart and his move was under investigation. Irwin was excluded from today’s second race, which saw him start the final race of the day from the back of the grid. Lining up in 23rd place he knew the challenge that was ahead of him, but as soon as the lights went out he set about chasing down his rivals. Carving his way through the pack and making up places lap-by-lap, he took the chequered flag in a spectacular 10th place and just missed out on a Showdown spot – he now sits seventh in the overall standings with 157 points.
For teammate Forés the Cheshire circuit once again proved challenging but his lap times and pace had improved since the second round earlier in the year. Wrapping up the weekend with 16th, 11th and 14th place finishes, he sits just behind Irwin in the overall standings with 148 points. Heading into the next rounds Forés knows the TT Circuit Assen well and also Donington Park, where at the third round he scored three podium finishes.
Meanwhile the teams’ Superstock 1000 contender Tom Neave had a positive weekend, beating his personal best times and finishing a lot closer to the leaders than in previous years. Qualifying sixth he got a fantastic start off the line in his first race to storm ahead and join the front group. It was looking like a podium spot was again on the cards, but his race came to an early end on the ninth lap when he crashed out unhurt.
With the bit between his teeth for today’s race, Neave was looking to finish the weekend on a high and started from the second row in fourth place. Another great start off the line saw him again in the front group where he stayed for the 14 laps. Crossing the line to take fifth place, Neave has moved back into seventh in the overall championship standings.
The Superbike team will now turn its attention to the 10th round in two weeks time, when the championship heads to the TT Circuit Assen, in The Netherlands on 20/21/22 September, the Superstock teams do not travel to Assen and will be back in action at Donington Park (4/5/6 October).
Xavi Forés: It’s been a difficult weekend, I expected a little more and to be fighting a bit more towards the Showdown. This morning’s race was better, the Fireblade and my pace was better from yesterday, but at this kind of track we struggle a lot and it was not possible to secure a place in the Showdown and fight with Hickman. I am disappointed as this year the Showdown was the target, but we tried our best and now I’m thinking about the next races; Assen and Donington – they are tracks I know well and hopefully I can enjoy riding again and try to bring the best results for the team, because I think we have done such hard work all season and I am looking forward to ride there and fight to be on the podium again.
Andrew Irwin: This weekend has been a disaster really, but this is racing and is the way it goes, I’m still young and I don’t think anyone really expected me to fight for the Showdown this year but we were so close and we fought until the end. I won a race and now we have three rounds to have fun and get the best results we can for Honda. This weekend we showed how much the Fireblade has progressed here, before we were just about able to make Q2 and this time we made Q3, even though it didn’t count for anything we were still there. Thanks to the team, we have all worked hard so far this season and we still have three rounds, I’m not going to give up just yet and will be looking to get on the podium again and finish the year where I know I’m capable of.
Tom Neave: Oulton Park has gone from being one of my worse tracks to one of my favourites, I found a massive chunk of time here and I really started to enjoy riding it. Since Cadwell I feel I have my confidence with the Fireblade and hope we can now be strong for the next two rounds. The race was good today, I made a stupid mistake yesterday but today I was a little too cautious, but my sector times have improved, so every session has been a progression this weekend. We don’t go to Assen sadly, so I have a bit of a break before Donington and I just want to keep improving for the last two rounds and finish the year strong, they are two tracks I really enjoy and I’m feeling positive as we head to the final rounds.
Havier Beltran: I’m disappointed that not one of our riders is in the Showdown, I understand the circumstances which have led to this and I also know that they’re more than capable of running at the front, which we have shown this season. The work from the team with the development of the Fireblade to get us where we are has been incredible and I do believe we can be strong at the final three rounds. Oulton is a notoriously technical and difficult circuit to ride and let alone when the pressure of the Showdown is on! Tom showed again how important it is to qualify at the sharp end and had great race pace and continually improved his times, unfortunately we gave away some of our advantage when the safety car pulled in and the race resumed, but it was another good ride for Tom aboard the Fireblade.