The 23-year-old Alex Lowes from Lincoln claimed the first major title of his career when he won the British Superbike title at Brands Hatch yesterday in a thrillingly dramatic and desperately dangerous skirmish on a soaking track against the triple title-holder, Shane Byrne.
Lowes’ Samsung Honda team has been grooming him throughout the season in the art of maintaining composure in the heat of superbike battles at up to 200mph, and the effort paid off as he held his nerve to win the title by seven points.
“I just saw the 67 bike coming up, and round Brands Hatch that’s not something you want to see,” Lowes said, referring to his rival’s riding number. “But I thought, ‘Keep focus’. I gave it my best and it was enough.”
The Australian rider Josh Brookes won the race on his Tyco Suzuki, to compete a treble victory on the Kent circuit at the weekend. But his effort was overshadowed by the intensity of the Lowes-Byrne confrontation. Whoever finished in front would take the title in this last of the season’s 26 races. Both had crashed out of the preceding race, which placed Lowes on the third row of the grid for the finale and Byrne in a lowly 22nd position. Byrne therefore had to cope with spray from other riders, as well the British superbiker’s normal handicaps of no mirrors, no radio contact and no traction control.
But the Londoner blazed through to 12th place on the first place, and on lap seven surged past Lowes. It was hard to imagine that Lowes could retaliate, and Byrne looked set to collect a record fourth British title. But with four laps to go Lowes slid past Byrne as they dropped towards Graham Hill bend, and retained the positon to the finish. “I just couldn’t roll over and let Alex go, but I couldn’t do anything about it,” Byrne said.
Lowes started the first race of the day with a three-point lead in the standings. But the crowd at the right-hand Druids hairpin roared in disbelief as Lowes, who was holding a position just outside Brookes’s Suzuki, slid out of the race and onto the grass. “As I came around Druids, Josh hit my bike and I went down,” Lowes said. “It wasn’t my fault – I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not upset with myself – I can’t get angry about things that are beyond my control.”
Brookes said later: “People started bunching up outside of me. I thought, ‘I’m in uneasy territory.’ The next thing it felt like someone had grabbed my arm. I could see a flash of blue and figured it was Alex. When I came around on the next lap I saw the marks on the track and thought he’d gone down.”
Lowes must have felt his title chances had all but disappeared. But a few laps later Byrne, who was then leading the points chase, also slid off at Druids. The damp track had claimed both championship contenders and Lowes reclaimed his three-point lead.
Lee Costello, a 26-year-old British Superbike rookie, grabbed the lead on his Hallsall Kawasaki, from James Ellison on a Milwaukee Yamaha. But they had selected a wet-weather front tyre and felt their grip deteriorating on the drying track. Brookes, however, had chosen to run on intermediates, and began to hoover up a 20-second deficit. He was still 2.2 seconds down entering the last lap, but managed to swoop inside Costello on the final turn.
“Midway through the race I thought I’d made a wrong tyre choice and got disheartened,” Brookes said. “I had to take so many risks on the wet parts of the track to keep my speed up.”