British Superbikes - Why few people would begrudge Leon Haslam his maiden BSB title
Re-visit this article, written after the final round in 2017, to understand why there will be few people in the paddock that would begrudge Leon Haslam his maiden BSB title...
His body hurtled into the barrier after a 172mph fall. It was a sickening crash.
Broken brakes led to a broken ankle, wrist and thumb, just weeks after a broken vertebrae.
His maiden BSB title? A broken dream.
But a broken spirit, not a chance. Not Leon Haslam.
Do not forget, it was not just physical pain the JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider was experiencing on Sunday. He had come into the weekend as the 1/14 favourite to clinch the title. There were three races remaining – at 25 points a pop for the winner – and Haslam had a 32-point lead.
A fourth place in Race 1 on Saturday left him 21 points ahead of Shakey Byrne, who won the opener, before 10th place in Race 2 set up a winner-takes-all finale in the last race of the season at the Brands Hatch Showdown.
But Haslam was fighting – he was in fifth place, one ahead of Byrne in the early laps. Had they remained where they were, the title was his.
Then disaster struck. The brakes failed, Haslam was forced to ditch his bike and take the consequences – the horrific crash, the broken bones, and, after finishing as runner-up in the championship three times already, third place in the standings.
He could have sulked in his garage, blamed his mechanics, wept with his family, friends and team. Gone to hospital even. It was, perhaps, what you might expect.
But he didn't. He demanded to be carried on to the track following Byrne's lap of honour and, looking like he might crumple into a heap on the tarmac at any moment, was held upright, flanked by his father, Ron. Then this happened...
In this, the year of fake news, fake personalities and a president with a fake tan and fake hair, this was real. This footage does not lie.
It is an era where a boxer and a Mixed Martial Artist can manufacture a grotesque fight from nothing, go on a promotional tour to sling insults before the punches to maximise the hype and pay-per-view revenue. Eventually they split around £100million.
But Haslam and Byrne are real, raw, rivals – this was pure sport, pure sportsmanship, no filter, no fluff. Jubilation and devastation coming together, and embracing. The pair may never be great friends, but that does not get in the way of their deep respect for each other.
Just think about that for a moment. The guts it took for Haslam, full of pain, crippled by injury and emotion, standing there, waiting to congratulate his fierce rival, who had just taken away the prize he covets so much for a record sixth time.
'I'm glad to have walked away'
"Well, I didn’t quite walk away but I’m alright. We did everything we could this year, but it is what it is.
"Big congratulations to Shakey, he’s almost had as many DNFs as me this year so he deserves it!"
And this is not for show, not for the TV cameras. This is just what these two riders are like. Sure, they are not perfect, they can blow up like anyone else. But, for the most part, they are friendly, approachable, and even let the media into their homes on a race weekend.
Byrne, who deserves all of the plaudits that have come his way following his historic sixth title, and first consecutive championship victories, is also as humble as ever, despite, or perhaps because of, his incredible back story.
The 40-year-old, trophy in hand, was initially denied entry to the media centre after winning Race 1 on Saturday due to increased security. He laughed it off.
It has not always been like this. Bert Trautmann played on with a broken neck in the 1956 FA Cup final. Pele and Bobby Moore swapped shirts in that iconic match – and photo – at the 1970 World Cup.
Pele and Bobby Moore at the 1970 World CupImago
Sunday at Brands Hatch was akin to that moment. The stage and scale are different – a football World Cup will always be more glamorous than motorcycles for most sports fans. Otherwise, there are two rivals at the top of their game and sport, embracing after one of the most dramatic battles imaginable. And yet Bobby Moore did not have any broken bones.
There are rough edges to the event, like any other, while some believe the Showdown format is overcomplicated and should be changed to allow riders in what was an incredibly open season – with 10 race winners – to fight it out free of interference.
There are always commercial concerns too, of course, and only a fool would think there are not arguments behind closed doors within and between teams and riders.
But in an era of sanitised quotes, there are no press officers, or image rights in sight. It remains something of a throwback. A sport mostly full of riders who work incredibly hard and refuse to take the easy option, whether it be criticising their rivals, whinging about injuries, or making excuses for failure.
In many ways it is quintessentially British – an event to inspire national pride, which has almost become a dirty phrase with all the bickering over Brexit.
Haslam has had his ankle pinned after surgery on Monday morning. His bones will heal, he'll be back, hungrier than ever.
No-one would begrudge him the title next year. And, if it happens, no doubt Byrne will be at the front of the queue to congratulate him.
In BSB at least, there is nothing broken.