Supersport Heritage remembered by James Whitham

Yorkshire born and bred, James Whitham has raced in World and British Superbike plus somewhat spectacularly in 500GP’s but he has a particularly fond spot for his time in the World Supersport series. 

After a stint in WSB, James had a call up to ride for the Italian Belgarda Yamaha squad with their newly developed YZF-R6 machines. The occasion was the Huddersfield rider’s home round at Donington, the year 1999 and James made an instant name for himself powering through to take a maiden win!

“It was a great race, a mega result and it kicked off a few good years riding for Belgarda, who were a great bunch of lads” explains James of the outing which led to a three-year contract with the team.

It was a golden era for the class in my opinion, the racing was frantic and you could be less than a second from pole in qualifying and out of the top 20! There was an immense amount of talent, we had riders like Fabien Foret, Chris Vermulen, Karl Muggeridge, Paulo Casoli, Stephane Chambon Ruben Xaus, Andrew Pitt, Jörg Teuchert and so many other headbangers!

The 600 market was really buoyant, all the manufacturers entered strong bikes and there was some full factory efforts going on. Its interesting actually, the first generation R6 (which came out on in 1999) was THE bike to have racking up three championships (99-2000-01) and that’s the situation again now with the new R6 rocking it in the Worlds over the last couple of years. The Belgarda machines we ran were ‘trick as’, effectively factory machines, Honda were full factory then Ten Kate put a really good package together. It’s amazing to think we had over 130bhp even back then. 

The road market has changed of course but Yamaha have clearly put the effort into creating a great road and track machine. If you look back to the 70s and early 80s every one raced TZ’s, and tuning was strong, so these things come around in cycles.

We also had some really good tracks for the Supersport class like Monza and the old Hockenheim, slipstreaming was really important. I remember an epic at Monza with seven of us going at it hammer and tongs throughout, I looked back at one point and could see so many bikes, so I didn’t look round again!" 

"Thinking of the present the British Supersport series is a bit of a Yamaha whitewash to be honest! The Appleyard team have put a really great team together and were unlucky to not win earlier but now they’re on a roll. In my opinion they are the team along with some others that make it a British Championship, you know they are going to put a big effort in, and if they have a not so great year they’ll be back fighting again."

I don’t think anyone can stop Jack (Kennedy), he is World Championship standard and it’s great to see him going up against Alastair Seeley, who’s another class rider. Young Brad Jones is learning fast and will be a future contender I’m sure.

"The Appleyard dealership are close to me as a fellow Yorkshireman; I used to buy all my racing spares when I first started, I use to pedal on over hill and dale on my little FS1E back in the day! 

Robin and his family have always been in racing and helping riders; he’s an astute businessman but still loves being in the paddock and supporting the sport, you can’t say fairer than that.”

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All images copyright Double Red Photographic.

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