Spin vs Grip: The balance Glenn Irwin mastered to win BSB's Silverstone treble

A triple win for Glenn Irwin was one of the most unexpected outcomes of the first BSB race of 2022, and yet the Honda rider came away with maximum points.

BSB podium, Silverstone 2022. - Honda Racing Corporation.

The British Superbike Championship got underway over the weekend at the famous Silverstone circuit, and with a raft of riders coming back from the World Championship there was much anticipation about who would come away from the first three races of the season in the best shape. 

Despite the excitement surrounding the likes of Leon Haslam and Tom Sykes, who have returned to BSB from the World Championship for 2022, it was a group of four relatively well-established British Championship riders who were strongest in Silverstone. 

Glenn Irwin set pole position on Saturday, and proceeded to win the opening race of the season, coming out on top of a battle between himself and the two OMG Yamaha riders, Kyle Ryde and Brad Ray. Just slightly detached from the leading three was Rory Skinner, who enters his second year of Superbike class competition in 2022, and enjoyed a respectable start to the season.

These four would again distance themselves from the rest of the field in race two, although a crash for Ray cost him a shot at the podium, and in race three Ryde’s pace dropped off which saw Andrew Irwin take third place. 

The racing at Silverstone National is characterised by a high difficulty of overtaking, and managing the rear tyre. Those two characteristics combine when dropping back in the pack, which is why Ray’s race three ride was so impressive, coming through from outside of the top five early on to still match and even better Glenn Irwin’s pace by the end of the race. 

As a whole, the weekend from OMG Yamaha was impressive, in truth. They have made the switch to the YZF-R1 for 2022 after spending the last few years with BMW, and on Suzuki before that, and clearly the change in machinery has been a favourable one for both the team and the riders. It is rare to see performances improve so quickly with new bikes - there is almost always a period of adjustment and acclimatisation that usually eats into the racing season, and perhaps with that in mind the rest of the field should be quite concerned at this point. 

The other impressive point about OMG’s weekend is that both riders were able to make their tyre last better than almost anyone else. While the Yamaha is a bike which seems to be overall quite approachable and rider-friendly, we have seen recently that it tends to spin quite a lot when opening the throttle on the edge of the tyre, which is a common occurrence in Silverstone. 

It is also a common occurrence in MotorLand Aragon, where the WorldSBK season started and where Yamaha have traditionally struggled, and even this season Toprak Razgatlioglu was unable to live with the long-race pace of his rivals Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) and Alvaro Bautista (Ducati). Part of the reason for that was that the Yamaha suffers in the long corners, where it tends to spin and slide the rear tyre when the rider opens the throttle with high lean angle. That wears out the rear tyre, and that costs the rider pace late on in the race. 

Rear grip is the critical part of Silverstone National, and throughout all three races it was clear that Glenn Irwin’s Honda had more traction than the OMG Yamahas of Ryde and Ray, while the R1s were better on corner entry. 

The difference between the CBR1000RR-R and the R1 was especially noticeable out of Copse - where Irwin would always be able to drive out of the corner better than the Yamaha riders behind to keep them out of range into Maggotts and Becketts - and Luffield, through Woodcote, where the #2’s superior traction allowed him to stay clear of his pursuers into Copse. 

Irwin’s traction, and the ability of the Honda to seemingly continue driving forwards while spinning superior to the Yamaha, meant that, although he seemed to be pushing harder on the rear tyre than those behind him, his tyre wear was not significantly worse, and he always arrived at the end of the race with sufficient grip with which to fight. 

If the characteristic of Irwin being strong on corner exit continues elsewhere this season, it will present an interesting scenario, because he clearly did not have the same confidence on the front as some of his rivals in Silverstone. A circuit like Oulton Park - where BSB heads next and where it is possible to create an overtaking opportunity without requiring a traction advantage to do so - could create quite a different situation to Silverstone. 

But, thinking ahead to a circuit like Thruxton, and Irwin could once again enjoy this apparent advantage of being able to conserve the tyre while continuing to use the rear of the bike quite hard on corner exit. 

We are only one round in, so plenty is still to be decided and discovered about BSB in 2022, but the Silverstone opener has certainly shown us some interesting things, and it will be fascinating to see how they develop over the coming races.