Reigning British Supersport champions, Appleyard Yamaha, go into 2021 with two new riders. On a grid that features returning champions, revolutionary regulation changes, and ex-world championship riders, the 4-time-championship-winners will field underdog Bradley Perie and new-kid-on-the-block Rhys Irwin.
With that extra bit of experience over his teammate, Bradley Perie will fronting the Yamaha attack, with all the pressure on him to grab the team’s 5th consecutive title. Perie explained “It’s no secret that next year is going to be really competitive for Supersport, and I think it’ll really bring some life into it again.”
Perie earned his stripes in 2020 battling with championship contenders, matching lap records, and scoring consistent podium finishes whilst riding for a family run team on old out-of-date machinery.
“That chassis was a really old chassis back from 2008, it had a newish engine from 2016 which got refreshed every other race weekend. We could never afford to have the best bits, and I think anyone that thinks we’re all getting paid to do this is absolutely naive as hell. Being a family team, if you need to fork out big money for things you just can’t do it. Every year we’ve just chipped away and bought a few new bits and a few new bits, and last year, other than MOTECH, we had pretty much everything I asked for and we did really well. To go that next step, we can’t bring that, but Appleyard can help us to bring that so that was the move me and my family decided to make” Perie explained.
“We got six podiums in six rounds and considering we were running a team just me, my dad and a couple of helpers, I sort of thought that joining this team is the natural progression. If it didn’t happen or there weren’t any opportunities to do anything else, then I would have asked myself what I was doing this for because it’s just turned into a really expensive hobby now.”
Whilst all pressure is on Bradley to take the Appleyard team to victory once more, the 21-year-old recognises that this may be the toughest year to do it.
“I wouldn’t have taken the ride if I didn’t think I wasn’t going to try and win it. That being said, I think it’s going to be really difficult.”
The series will bring a whole host of changes, and plenty of teams and riders capable of victory. Starting with the return of 2 time British Supersport champion Jack Kennedy. We will also see an all-new Gearlink Kawasaki line-up including 2018 Junior Supersport champion Eunan McGlinchey and Supersport front funner Ben Currie.
The big news for 2021 has been on the completely new regulations including the Triumph Daytona 765 and the Ducati 955 V2 being introduced to the category. Also Simon Buckmaster’s World Supersport outfit will be running the factory Triumph team, with the 765 machines being piloted by ex-World Supersport rider Kyle Smith, and 2019 Motostar Champion and consistent podium finisher in American Supersport Brandon Paasch.
Yamaha’s 2021 frontman embraces this challenge.
“At the end of the day, the whole point is to get a Superbike ride, and anyone in this class will have the best chance of winning a Superbike ride if they can win the championship. As much as I want to win anyway, winning a race by 20 seconds because there’s no one else there or no other teams there isn’t exciting for the rider, sponsors or spectators. So I think to get a Superbike ride you need to be beating loads of big names, and lots of known winners to be a able to do that” Perie explained.
The 2021 season will be Yamaha’s toughest title defence yet, with one completely unknown factory being the introduction of the new Triumph’s and Ducati’s We’ve seen in the past that it can take time to regulate a class and keep all different engine capacities equal. Perie made it clear that if the regulations do seem to favour the new manufacturers, his voice will be heard.
“If things don’t become even with all the bikes, I will be making a point of that. There’s plenty of history with the Appleyard bikes, obviously winning the last four years in a row, but if I go out on that first test and there’s a Triumph or Ducati rocketing down the straight I will be making a point of that.”
Another interesting move made by the Appleyard team was the signing of the complete rookie Rhys Irwin. The Irish youngster only recently moved up from the British Talent Cup to the National Superstock 600 category, giving him limited experience on 600cc machines, but already he finds himself in the most successful Superpsort team in the UK.
“I have no experience at all on any Supersport spec machinery, I jumped off the moto3 at the end of 2019 and jumped onto my brother’s 3-year-old R6.” Irwin explained.
Whilst Irwin goes into the 2021 season with zero Supersport experience, the same could’ve been said for his 2020 season in the Superstock 600 class. Irwin shocked the paddock on his debut season in the category, finishing 2nd place overall.
“2020 went a lot better than expected, the plan was to go to Stock 6, ride my brothers old bike and see how I get on. I remember at the start of the year I did 3 days on it at Cartagena, then lockdown happened and I didn’t ride it for ages. I got to grips with it pretty quickly, it took the first round for me to find me feet and iron out some stuff. By the time I found my feet and got the ball rolling I loved riding it. I felt like a lot of stuff that was holding me back in the British Talent Cup on the Moto3 actually helped me a bit on the 600.”
Naturally, the talent of the youngster didn’t go unnoticed. Robin Appleyard had already set his sights on Irwin by the mid-point of the 2020 season.
“Round 2 at Snetteron I put it pole and it was my first podium, then Silverstone I topped free practice, got pole and took the win. It was at Silverstone that I first started speaking to Robin. From then it was just general chatting and he’d just help me out with stuff as he knew I was still early in the stages of learning to ride a 600. I’m young and naive so as soon as I started speaking to him I already knew what I wanted.”
Having sniffed out the talent, Robin Appleyard has created a lineup with incredible potential, and done it without bringing in the big names. With Brad Perie primed and ready to take on the title challenge, there will no pressure on Irwin to carry the team. Appleyard will be using his experience to help Irwin to grow and become strong for 2022.
It’s also something we’ve seen the Appleyard team do before. They let 2018 British Talent Cup champion Rory Skinner learn his way around the Supersort class in 2019 with Chris Walker’s Kawasaki, and then signed him for their 2020 title challenge whereby no one will forget his unexpected domination of the category which brought him the 2020 Supersport championship.
Appleyard will be hoping for the same progression to come from Irwin, using the 2021 season to build on a project for the future.
“I’m in quite a fortunate position where speaking to Robin and the team, we’ve all said it’s a year for me to just go out and learn and I’m not under massive pressure. Obviously for myself I have certain goals and I know what I expect of myself. But for me this year it’s just going to be about learning as much as I can every time I get on the bike.”
However, it may very well become the case that Irwin comes out and shocks the paddock once more in the 2021 season. It wouldn’t be the first time that the youngster has thrown the script out of the window. Out of the two Irwin brothers, it was Rhys’ more experienced brother Caolan that was expected to bag a top 3 championship finish in 2020, but Rhys had other ideas.
“The idea was that this was going to be a learning bike but I didn’t really want to stick to that plan” “I remember we were coming home from Brands and we were just chatting, as we’ve got a long drive home to west coast of Ireland. My dad asked me if we said at the start of the year we would have had a podium in every single race between me and Caolan it would’ve been a good year, and I said I would have thought Caolan had a good year.”
In the midst of what is looking to be one of most competitive years in British Supersport’s history, the Appleyard team seem to have figured it out once more. But with so much happening, there will almost definitely be some surprises.