The 2016 MCE British Superbike season was full of excitement and drama as two racing veterans went head-to-head for the title.
In the red corner we had Shane Byrne, a four-time champion armed with brand-new Ducati machinery for the Be Wiser Ducati team.
In the green corner we had the returning Leon Haslam on the JG Speedfit Kawasaki bike. Haslam signed a late deal with the team and returned to the series following seven seasons away in World Superbikes.
The pair would both have their own months of dominance but ultimately it was Byrne that came out on top and took his fifth title – the first person in history to do so. This was despite the fact that he and the team had to get to grips with a brand-new bike after leaving Kawasaki.
Let’s take a look back at how things shaped up in 2016.
Six races in, five different winners
There were many questions on the minds of BSB fans as the season got underway at Silverstone. How would Byrne get on with his new Ducati? Would Haslam run away with it on his return? Could Tyco BMW mount a title challenge? Could anybody launch a surprise title attack?
The opening six races of the season didn’t give any answers to these questions. Such is the unpredictable nature of BSB, there were five different winners from the first six races of the year – with only Haslam picking up more than one victory.
The opening race saw Michael Laverty pick off where he left off in 2015, with the Irishman on the top step of the podium. The second race saw Peter Hickman prove to Haslam and James Ellison that he to would be a force to be reckoned with in the GBMoto team.
This was followed by victories for Haslam and Richard Cooper at Oulton Park, before Haslam picked up another win at Brands Hatch. Byrne joined in on all the fun in race two of the day on the Indy circuit.
The fact that it had only taken six races for Byrne to fully-master his new machine should have been a warning sign to all of his rivals.
Byrne begins to increase the pressure
In the next 10 races, starting at Knockhill and ending at Cadwell Park, Byrne would begin to assert some dominance on the championship – taking six victories in the process.
Haslam was not about to let his rival get too far ahead though as he picked up two race wins during the same period. At Brands Hatch he accepted damage limitation and finished as runner-up to Byrne in both races.
Thruxton was a bad round for both riders as Byrne crashed out of race one, before Haslam could only manage 13th place in race two.
In the middle of all this there was a first victory in the series for Jason O’Halloran on the Honda – which was starting to show potential of its own.
This block of racing action ended with Byrne and Haslam both picking up victories at the Cadwell Park, the home of the infamous Mountain.
Haslam fights back at Oulton Park
Next up was Oulton Park, which turned out to be a brilliant weekend for Haslam and the JG Speedfit Kawasaki team as a whole.
History was made in race one as the podium was locked out by the GBMoto team. Haslam took victory with Ellison and Hickman joining him on the podium. This was the first time in the series’ history that one team has locked out all three podium spots.
A near hi-side towards the end of the race cost Byrne any chance of a podium – eventually crossing the line in ninth.
It got even worse for Byrne in race two as he low-sided out of the race at Hizzy’s Chicane. Haslam got the better of Ellison once again to take victory.
Haslam completed his hat-trick in race three to overtake Byrne in the podium points standings. Byrne struggled once again to take fifth place.
Donington Disaster for Haslam
If Oulton Park was Haslam’s dream round then Donington Park was his nightmare. Unable to stop Byrne in race one, the pocket rocket had to settle for second place – losing the lead of the championship in the process.
It was in race two where the championship was, in the long run, lost to Shakey. The pair were battling for the lead in tricky conditions when Haslam pushed a little bit too hard going into Redgate – sliding out of the race.
A classy double by Haslam at Assen would cut the deficit back down to 17 points but Byrne knew that he would only need to finish second to Haslam in the three Brands Hatch races to be crowned champion.
Ellison ends the year in style as Byrne is crowned champion
Haslam’s chances of winning the title would take a huge hit in the tricky conditions of race one as he crashed out spectacularly at Graham Hill Bend. The Kawasaki rider was treated by medics and was in pain for the remainder of the weekend.
Byrne ended the race in sixth place, extending his lead to 27 points. At the front it was Hickman who took his second win of the season.
The second race saw Ellison master the wet conditions to take his first win of the year but it was Byrne who stole the limelight as his sixth place was enough to clinch yet another BSB title.
The final race of the year was cut down to 10 laps following an oil spill and all the riders went all out now that the title had been wrapped up.
Ellison once again got the better of everybody to take his second win of the day, and third in the championship. John Hopkins finished second to claim his 2nd podium of the season as well.
A 12th place finish for Hickman was enough for him to capture the 2016 Riders’ Cup.