Did BSB Showdown turnaround gains take shine off Tarran Mackenzie title triumph?

Tarran Mackenzie certainly put in a champion's performance during the BSB Title Showdown but Jason O'Halloran still scored considerably more points overall

Tarran Mackenzie, Jason O'Halloran - McAMS Yamaha [credit: Ian Hopgood]

Here’s a question for you: Did the best rider win the 2021 British Superbike Championship (BSB)?

It’s not intended as a controversial query. Some of you will err towards the entirely acceptable notion that the best rider is indeed the winner by the very rule of the, well, rules. Then there are those that can also justifiably call out the Title Showdown twist that split the season into two very distinct portions to generate an entirely different result.

Before arguments commence, we will say this right at the top of the piece now that new BSB Champion Tarran Mackenzie absolutely deserved to clinch the title on Sunday, hoisting a trophy with his name proudly etched alongside that of his father Niall, triple champion in 1996-1998.

A day to remember for McAMS Yamaha, the title is a first for both the team and for Mackenzie in a season that saw the Yamaha R1 win 21 of the 33 races. 

However, if there is joy on one side of the garage, there will be a bittersweet taste left in the mouth of team-mate Jason O’Halloran, the hot favourite and form man having sustained a remarkable run to metronomic consistency and sure-footedness. At last it appeared the stars were aligning after 11 years of getting close without so much as drag on a cigarette, let alone a Cuban cigar.

The statistics are slightly awkward reading for series organisers MSVR, even if it could have been worse had the two riders’ form sheets not ventured in opposite directions. In the end, O’Halloran finished the year with more wins and more points over the entirety of the season, yet wound up third overall

To his credit, Mackenzie pulled right up to his team-mate’s 11 wins with 10 victories of his own - five of which came in the nine Showdown races - but he would have still been a distant 36 points down on points under a conventional format. 

Did BSB Title Showdown crown the wrong champion?

While there has previously been some disparity in the overall classification versus the points scored across the year in the past, the differences have been relatively minor. On this occasion though, O’Halloran lost out on the title and the runners-up spot despite having a win and sixth place pair of results in hand. 

Of course, ‘demz da rulez’ and since we’ve previously spilled much ink on whether the Title Showdown needs an overhaul, we won’t present the arguments again. 

Even so, it is definitely worth pointing out that the vast majority of comments on said previous article - “We like the BSB Showdown… but it’s a travesty if Jason O’Halloran isn’t champion” - do want to see the format scrapped altogether.

Which brings me back to my original question… did the right McAMS Yamaha rider win the 2021 BSB title?

In my view - one that admittedly has perhaps changed - the right man in Mackenzie did win… 

Even if I would have preferred to see it achieved under the more generic format of points mean prizes. Call me old fashioned.

Tarran Mackenzie and the art of impeccable timing

Timing is everything in comedy, most sports and when hitting your stride just as the BSB Title Showdown kicks off.

Indeed, initially at least, Mackenzie wasn’t so much a big winner of the equalising format as O’Halloran was the almost cringe-worthy big loser. His vast 106 point lead built on a stunning run of form was obliterated to 30 points by the equalising format before not one, but two crashes at Oulton Park - scene of a triple victory earlier in the season - sent his confidence and the rest of that slimmed advantage scattered into a hail of gravel stones

From here O’Halloran never recovered. It was clear he felt the strain on having the status of an odds-on favourite that reflected his snuffed three-figure lead rather than the modest advantage he ended up with.

It’s fair to say that at no point during the opening nine rounds did O’Halloran once look on the edge of a crash, then two occur in three races. Modest results in dicey conditions amplified the issue, so that by the time he reached Brands Hatch, O’Halloran was the fading support act to Mackenzie’s shining headline performance.

Indeed, if O’Halloran’s confidence was dwindling, then Mackenzie’s was soaring in his overnight metamorphosis as underdog-turned-top dog

A rider whose steady evolution from talented but inconsistent youngster on his debut in 2018 into a rounded if still error-prone front runner by 2020 and at times in 2021, finally came together in convincing fashion as the Title Showdown kicked off.

With his title-winning father keeping those nerves in check, Mackenzie shucked off the blips in form that occasionally left him down the grid and fighting (albeit with impressive gusto) through the field, leaving the same aggressive confident racer, just with fewer rivals to muscle his way past.

Of course, he wouldn’t have overhauled O’Halloran under the rules of 12 years ago but in this high-speed game of poker, you can only play the hand you are dealt. 

So while a po-faced O’Halloran may have accumulated plenty of smaller chips, when it was time to go all-in, there was no stopping Royal Flush Mackenzie...

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