Dubliner Jack Kennedy was the class of the Supersport field once again at Brands Hatch last weekend as he eased to his third British Supersport title in four years on Saturday and then put in arguably the performance of the season in finishing second in Sunday’s race, from last on the grid.
ennedy made a surprise return to the Supersport championship at the start of this year, having graduated to the Superbike class 12 months earlier. His 2020 Superbike season had not gone to plan, as performance issues for his TAG Yamaha team saw them pull out of the championship after just two events, leaving the experienced Irishman without a ride.
Kennedy did make a return for the final three events of the season, picking up some impressive results, but was once again looking for work for ‘21 as his new team were returning to running a single bike for their regular rider.
With no suitable Superbike offers on the table, the Irish rider made a return to Supersport on a Kawasaki, with his team opting to develop the recently introduced 636cc model. From the start of the season the bike appeared to be struggling for speed out of corners and on to the straights, meaning Kennedy was going to have to ride harder than ever if he was to take another title.
Six podium places in the first six races, including two wins, put the Dubliner into an against-the-odds championship lead, but four non-finishes over the next five events moved him back down to second in the standings. A return to form for the last three weekends saw Kennedy decimate his opposition in three of the four races, to head to the Brands Hatch finale needing to simply finish race one in seventh place or better.
At the final event, Kennedy began as he meant to continue, by topping free practice and qualifying, finishing up six tenths faster than his closest rival, Bradley Perie, with main championship contender Ben Currie third. With no thoughts of riding for a finish and quietly picking up the points he needed, the champion elect got his head down straight away in race one and by the end of the second lap had already broken his opposition. The gap remained around three seconds until the final laps, as Kennedy controlled his pace in a masterful display of consistent riding, to lift the championship with one round to spare.
“My approach to the last weekend was the same as every other event,” said the now triple-champion. “It’s not my style to ever go into a race without thinking of winning it, so there was no way I would settle for fourth or fifth place in order to to win a championship. I wanted to do it the right way and that meant winning the title with a race win, so I could celebrate on the top step of the podium. I let Perie get within a couple of seconds at the end and could have eased off, taken no chances and let him beat me, but that’s not the way I wanted to finish the season.”
With the championship wrapped up, Kennedy set out for Sunday’s final race looking to dominate again but found himself in a battle with Perie. Perie was pushing hard to finish off the season by beating the champion but pushed too hard and crashed out, almost taking Kennedy with him. Somehow Jack stayed upright and as he got back up to speed he had the presence of mind to try his brakes before pushing on. Discovering he had no brake pressure, the experienced rider saved himself a massive accident at the following corner by easing off and touring around the remainder of the lap to retire.
“For the last race, especially if the championship is decided, everyone wants to finish off the season with a win as that will be remembered all winter. Bradley was pushing very hard, probably too hard and he had taken me out earlier in the year in the same situation, so I was aiming to get clear of him when he went by me at the entrance to Surtees and then fell right in front of me on the exit.
“I don’t know how I stayed on really, but it might have been that when my front wheel hit his bike I didn’t pull the front brake, which might have pitched me off. My fitness played a part too as at one point I only had hold of the bars with one hand. The impact with his bike was so big that I thought at the very least the pads would have moved away from the discs so I tried pumping the front brake and there was nothing. I eased off and toured back to the pits thinking my season was over.”
Kennedy’s season was not over, however, as a separate multi-bike accident brought the race to a stop and with the Kawasaki’s brakes quickly repaired the champion was back out for the restart, albeit 28th on the grid for the now five-lap race. What followed was one of the most sensational rides ever seen in the British Supersport championship, with the race commentators running out of superlatives for the Irish star’s performance.
Working his way spectacularly through the grid, the Irishman made it up on to the leader’s tail and just failed to take the race win by three hundredths of a second. Astonishingly, Jack also took fastest lap of the race, with a quicker time than set in race one, despite overtaking multiple bikes on each lap.
As he celebrated his championship success, Kennedy paid tribute to his team and the backers who had given him the opportunity to be a British champion once again.
“My team did an amazing job on the bike especially when we were struggling for speed earlier in the season. I was really comfortable with them and, alongside their professionalism, it felt like I was going racing with a bunch of mates each weekend,” Kennedy said.
“The team owner Dave Tyson is really easy to work with and always allowed me to do what suits me with the bike set up. The way they got me back out for the final race even though they could easily have not bothered, as the championship was settled, is a testament to just how professional they are.
“I’m not sure what will happen next year. I’d love to go to Superbikes again but I’ll only got for the right opportunity. If nothing comes up I’d have no problem staying put where I am happy and winning races. Along with the team, I also have to thank my long term supporters, Dawn, Megabikes, VTL, Ratflap and all the others as without them this would not be possible.”
The Supersport grid at Brands Hatch included a higher than usual number of Irish competitors, with three-times race winner Lee Johnston finishing off his season with another podium to wrap up third in the championship before he heads back to the Roads for 2022.
Rhys Irwin finished off his debut season sitting ninth in the points, with his highlight being a pair of podium finishes at Silverstone. Joining the championship for wild card rides were two Dunlop Masters Superbike Championship regulars, TAG Honda Superbike racer Emmet O’Grady, who made a one-off appearance for Wilson Craig racing, and Supersport Cup champion Jamie Collins, who took his own Yamaha R6 to Brands Hatch for his first BSB appearance. Also on the grid were Eunan McGlinchey and Scott Swann, bringing the total number to seven, a quarter of the total grid.
Sixteen-year-old Ulster rider Cameron Dawson also took a championship win at the BSB finale as he lifted the Junior Supersport title without turning a wheel in either Saturday’s or Sunday’s race. The teenager had started Saturday’s race but was one of a number of riders who crashed out when they were caught out by a sudden shower of rain. Dawson didn’t make the restart but with his main rival finishing fourth, he was crowned champion and then sat out Sunday’s race two.