Alex Lowes, a 22-year-old who hasn't won a championship since he was a 10-year-old child, is poised to rock motorcycling's establishment by claiming the UK's premier category, the MCE British Superbike series, at Brands Hatch this weekend.
The Lincoln rider lies third in the championship table on his 1,000cc WFR Honda Fireblade, only 24 points behind the leader and double British champion Shane Byrne, with 75 available in the three races over two days. Lowes already leads the reigning British champion, Tommy Hill, who is in fourth place, after a late-season burst of form that has inspired him to victory in the last two rounds of the series.
But the former electrician isn't allowing the pressure to affect his strategy for the final round, in which six riders are vying to walk away with the championship. Winning the British title can often act as a gateway to the World Superbike or MotoGP championships.
"I'm feeling pretty relaxed about the weekend," Lowes said. "I really enjoy the track, and I'm just going to go out and see what happens. I don't want the situation to get on top of me.
"In 2011 I fell out with the WFR team and ended up where I seemed to be riding a different bike every weekend for other teams. I was crashing and I lost my confidence. Some people who go through a season like that never recover, but I've got my confidence back and it's made me a stronger person."
Myles Schofield, WFR's managing director, said: "It was Alex's raw talent that made me go back to him after our falling-out. He is clearly at one with the machine and can do astonishing things with whatever bike you put under him.
"But what he needed was some kind of care and attention to make up the rest of what is required to become a top professional motorcycle racer. Patience, thought, preparation, interpretation, thinking about what you're trying to achieve – all those things that were just out of his reach just a year ago."
Lowes will hit around 170mph when he qualifies on the 200-horsepower Honda today, and then competes in an 18-lap race. Tomorrow the Superbike pack contests two 20-lap races on the 2.6-mile track.
He started racing on the dirt at the age of eight, and once won the Hull and District Junior 65cc Motocross Championship – a humble achievement that hardly seemed like the doorway to becoming a title contender in British Superbikes. He started road racing when he was 12, and has competed on 125cc and 600cc bikes as well as superbikes, but has not yet won even a minor road race title.
Lowes and Schofield make an explosive, new-kids-on-the-block package, for this is only the second year that the WFR squad has challenged the 15 other teams on the British Superbikes grid. Schofield is encouraged by new rules in the championship that limit the electronic aids on the bikes.
"At some point in the future a rider would have been able to pin the throttle wide open all around a circuit, and the electronics would do the work for him," he said.
"Now they have to develop throttle control and understanding, and awareness of the limits of their tyres."
Can the WFR team win the BSB title in only its second year of operation? "I don't want to tempt fate, but the way Alex is riding at the moment there is a chance," Schofield added.
"In motorcycle racing anything can happen. But I won't be disappointed if he just finishes somewhere near the top among all those more experienced riders."
Defending champion Hill said: "It's gutting how the last few rounds have been, but that is how racing goes sometimes. I just need to try and win all three races and then anything can still happen."
In the slipstream? Lowes' title rivals
Shane Byrne, 35
Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki
The double British champion is the most experienced, with experience of MotoGP and World Superbikes
Josh Brookes, 29
Fierce Australian is desperate to claim his first British Superbike title; only rider to have scored points in every round so far this year.
Tommy Hill, 27
Last year's championship team has suffered a late-season slump, and Hill starts the weekend with a 42-point deficit.Reuse content