Glenn Irwin prepared for ‘toughest ever’ BSB battle
Honda Racing’s Glenn Irwin expects this year’s battle to be crowned British Superbike champion to be tougher than ever as he prepares for the season-opener this weekend at Oulton Park.
The Carrickfergus man is entering his second year on the new Fireblade CBR1000RR-R and will spearhead Honda’s hopes of a title challenge after his younger brother Andrew left the team to sign with Northern Ireland’s SYNETIQ BMW squad.
Irwin, who is joined in the striking new Honda livery for 2021 by BSB newcomers Ryo Mizuno and Takumi Takahashi from Japan, led last year’s condensed six-round championship until the penultimate round at Donington Park, when a crash in race one while leading proved a costly setback.
He eventually finished the campaign in fourth position, 62 points behind Josh Brookes, and Irwin expects the reigning champion to be a ‘formidable opponent’ once again on the PBM Ducati.
“The level is sky-high and Josh as reigning champion is on the proven package in BSB,” Irwin said.
“If you were to break down the races from 2019 and 2020, the Ducati has probably won 70 per-cent of those races.
“So you’ve got the reigning champion on a proven bike, and that makes him a formidable opponent.
“The PBM squad is strong and Christian Iddon has had a strong pre-season as well, so I expect the Ducatis to be right up there and quite simply, if you’re on one of those Ducatis and you’re not right up there, then you’re underperforming,” he added.
“Jason and Tarran (Mackenzie) have made a great step forward in pre-season and Jason has been Jorge Lorenzo-esque with the laps he’s been banging off, so I think we’re all aware of how he has been going.
“You’ve also got the Kawasaki squad with Rory Skinner and Lee Jackson, then my brother Andrew and Danny (Buchan) on the SYNETIQ BMWs – that’s a strong line-up and the BMW has improved from last year.
“I think Tommy Bridewell (Oxford Products Ducati) will come on strong again this year too.
“It would be a very bold statement for anyone to say they’re going to go and win the championship, but we have improved our package and I feel good and fit.”
Assessing his prospects at Oulton in Cheshire, Irwin hinted that he may have to lower his expectations for this year’s opening round after starting the 2020 championship on such a high at Donington Park National.
“Going to Oulton, it’s a track where I qualified second last year and we were strong with our one-lap pace as such,” he said.
“We weren’t horrendous in the race and we fought in the top six in every single race, which isn’t a bad result.
“I have to be on top of my game and Oulton is a different track to where we started round one last year at Donington, when we started in the best possible way as a team,” added the four-time North West 200 Superbike winner.
“I do expect things to be tougher but I also go into the weekend with a better understanding of where I’m at, which I have taken from riding at Oulton last year, and we didn’t seem to be too far away in testing there.”
The Showdown returns for 2021 after being dropped from the shorter six-round championship format last season.
For the first time, eight riders will qualify as title fighters for the final three Showdown rounds, up from six in 2019.
Each of this year’s 11 BSB rounds will also feature three races.
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