In a Covid-interrupted 2020 season, Harley Prebble bettered reigning champion James McHardy to win the Formula Prostocks Bandit Challenge, a result after which he landed a ride on the Team Classic Suzuki-prepared GSF600 Bandit for the 2021 season. Last year he won every single race to make it back-to-back titles, but that fact alone does not tell the whole story of his season.
When you learn a racer won every single race in a season - 19 out of 19, in Harley’s case - it’s easy to dismiss the championship as being won by a rider, clearly, head and shoulders above the rest of the field. And sure, Harley’s performances were exceptional, not only just to win every race but finish every race: crashing is a part of racing though, thanks to the bike’s level of preparation and support from Suzuki’s Vintage Parts Programme, he suffered no mechanical DNFs. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“I won all three races at the opening round at Brands Hatch but all three came by less than a tyre’s width. They were close-run things,” Harley explained. “It was also my first time out on the Team Classic Suzuki Bandit and so I was still getting comfortable with the bike and working out how hard I could push. The last thing I wanted to do was throw it at the scenery at round one.”
By his own admission, the aim was to win another championship, after feeling like the 2020 title was a little hollow.
“Due to Covid the previous season and the championship run over only six races it didn’t really feel like a proper championship. So the aim was to try and win the championship properly, and with 19 races it certainly felt like a proper championship.”
But, after winning all three races at the opening round and maintaining his 100% record with every passing round, he also admits that winning the championship and winning every race also became a goal in itself.
“I must admit that I never thought, at the start of the season, that I would finish every race let alone win them all. In fact it was a huge honour to be presented with the Bandit Challenge trophy by the legendary John Reynolds; a moment I will never forget. I remember him saying to me, “19 wins out of 19 races, that takes some doing.” I can’t believe he was impressed by me, when you consider the career he had.
“At the start of the season the races were really close. I was still getting used to riding the Team Classic Suzuki Bandit, but, the more I gelled with the bike the more comfortable I felt riding it and the more I was able to push from the start and know my limits.
“Oulton Park was one of the most memorable rounds of the season; the weather was terrible, non stop rain. I 28th on the grid after crashing in practice on my spare bike, but I was up to third going into the first corner and ended up winning the race by 26 seconds. I soon realised that I can race the Team Classic Suzuki in all conditions and we were strong everywhere.
“After something like the 13th win it was then that I thought, can I really win them all? Plus my race number was always 19, 19 races, felt like some sort of omen.”
And it must have been, however, thanks to the Bandit Challenge operating a Showdown format similar to British Superbikes, Harley couldn’t relax and rest on his laurels, he had to keep pushing to the end.
“To be honest I am not a fan of the Showdown format,” Harley admits. “I had almost a 100-point lead before the Showdown, but then at the opening Showdown round that was cut dramatically to 27 points.
“Cadwell was the first meeting and it’s not a favourite circuit of mine, I never seem to feel like I am going well there, and you’re aware that the series lead has been cut, and one mistake now can have a massive impact. But I went out on Saturday morning for qualifying, still not feeling overly confident, but managed to set pole position and win every race.”
Key to Harley’s success was not just his speed, but the fact that his Bandit took him to the finish in every race.
“The bike didn’t miss a beat all season, despite being something like 25 years old. My dad helps me at the track but I really need to thank Nathan Colombi for building such a fantastic bike. And if there was ever an issue they were always sorted before the next round. Tim Davies has been amazing this season, too, sorting the team clothing, the tyres, the spares, oils, everything he has supplied me with has been really appreciated. The Team Classic Suzuki family has made me feel very welcome.
“The main difference I found between my Bandit, last season, and the Team Classic Suzuki bike were my race starts. The bike is so good off the line, every start I made was spot on. I have spent the last three seasons going backwards off the line and having to fight my way back through the grid. I soon realised this season that if I could get into the first corner leading the way I could then set a nice smooth opening lap and creep away while the rest of the field were battling each other. That then became my plan at each round.”
With the 2022 season around the corner, Harley’s looking to replicate the form that took him to this year’s title, but he’s not expecting it to be a straightforward affair.
“My first aim for the season is to score enough points in the first few rounds to secure a place in the showdown. After that I will then be pushing to defend my title but with 40 other top riders, all on good Bandits and all wanting the number one plate and a chance to ride the awesome Team Classic Suzuki bike for 2023, it’s going to be a tall order.
“Because, honestly, getting to race the Team Classic Suzuki bike is unreal, even if a little daunting to start with. This is the only time I have ever had the chance to race someone else’s motorcycle. And after all the years I have raced, things like coming home from work to a delivery of sponsored tyres, it has to be one of the best feelings ever.”
Fun fact, in 2021 Harley also entered the Team Classic Suzuki Bandit into the Pre-injection 700 class, to, as he put it, “have some fun with the big boys.” After a decent points haul at round one saw him leave Brands third in the championship, he continued in the series for the rest of the season, winning that title, too. So, don’t underestimate a well-ridden Bandit.