THE opening rounds of the Suzuki GB Motul Bandit Challenge lived up to its expectation of close-cut racing throughout the entire grid at Brands Hatch.
Despite the best efforts of the weather, which displayed its entire repertoire of gazebo destroying wind with rain through to bright sunshine and hailstorms, last year’s two main protagonists – #1-shod James McHardy and #2 Harley Pebble – set a scene likely to continue throughout the year as they battled all weekend.
Despite the damp and windy conditions for race one, McHardy set the pace in the early laps pulling ahead of the chasing pack in his normal exuberant and exciting manner.
However, he was finally closed down by the silky smooth Prebble who, while chasing, set a new class lap record of 54.957sec, eventually pulling ahead for the win by 0.291sec.
Third place was hotly contested by John Ward and David Hatswell, but the latter secured the final podium place by just over a second after Ward clashed with a back marker on the final straight. Notable finishes by newcomers included Gary Cutts in fifth, Carl Smalley in sixth and Callum Emms in 10th.
With conditions worsening for race two, McHardy rode a strong race to take a 0.639sec win from Prebble to bring the early points table back to level pegging.
Hatswell once again secured third place and hit the lead in the Over 50s points table. Rookie Emms crashed out while battling for fourth, while Harris took fifth and Cutts bagged sixth ahead of four other newbies, who rounded out the top 10, while crashes and poor tyre choices left seven riders with DNFs.
A dry track was marred by an oil spill stretching from the exit of Druids to the entrance of Clearways for race three, but it didn’t stop McHardy and Prebble from resuming battle, with Prebble securing not only his second win of the weekend by 0.234sec but also another lap record of 54.693sec.
Just behind, newcomer Smalley secured his first podium in third place, while close racing saw the remainder of the top ten covered by 23sec.
The increasing cold, low sun and worsening track conditions depleted the final race grid but as he was determined to equal the points tally, McHardy led from the off and held the lead, despite Prebble’s best efforts, to win by 0.108sec.
Cutts clinched his first podium with a well-deserved third place, as a good battle between Smalley and Harris saw them finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
The series moves to Snetterton next month where the cut and thrust between McHardy and Prebble seems likely to continue.
*Main image: Hairy Beast Pix
*Side image: EDP Photo News