Tommy Hill edged out John Hopkins in one the greatest laps of racing in BSB history to win the 2011 British Superbike Championship by 0.006s. The two rivals were part of a five-man battle for second behind runaway winner Shane Byrne and swapped places no fewer than six times on the final lap with everything on the line.
Byrne accelerated clear on the opening lap, putting his pole position to full use and as the race settled down, the HM Plant Honda led by over a second from James Ellison, Hopkins, Hill, Michael Laverty and Jon Kirkham.
Laverty was playing a key role, protecting teammate Hill from the second Crescent Suzuki of Kirkham but on lap five, that threat disappeared as Hopkins’ teammate slid out at Druids, allowing the Swan Yamahas to concentrate on the job at hand.
As the race approached half distance, another challenger was looming behind them as a rampant Josh Brookes closed in. The Australian crashed out of race two, forcing him to start from the sixth row, but was now up into sixth and lapping quicker than anybody else.
Hill’s rear gunner lasted until lap 14 when Brookes dived up the inside of Laverty into Paddock Hill bend. With the Relentless Suzuki looking menacing, Hill knew he had to make his move and set about challenging Hopkins for third.
With just two points separating them, whoever finished ahead would take the title and Hill put himself in prime position for the first time on lap 17, getting a superb slingshot out of Hawthorns before pulling in front into Westfield.
At the start of the penultimate lap, Hill put a bike between himself and Hopkins by passing Ellison into Paddock Hill, the respite lasted only three corners though as Hopkins followed him through at Surtees. Just a lap and a half remained and the championship battle was well and truly on.
Hill led by 0.060s as the final lap got underway but that advantage only lasted up to Surtees as Hopkins forced his way up the inside to take second. Despite a minor slide, Hill was quicker on the exit and lined himself up for a pass into Hawthorns, nipping through at the end of the back straight.
Hopkins fought straight back into Westfield but Hill simply refused to give in, showing extreme bravery to slide up the inside into Sheene’s corner. With everything on the line, Hopkins made a desperate lunge into Clearways, the final corner of the season, and although he made it to the apex first, Hill ducked underneath him as they entered the home straight.
After 26 races and six months of tooth and nail competition, the race for the title literally turned into a sprint to the finish line. The naked eye couldn’t separate them but the timing screens and a subsequent photo finish gave Hill the verdict by six thousandths of a second, crowning him champion by two points.
Hill admitted he wasn’t sure himself who was champion when he crossed the line and couldn’t hide his joy when the result was confirmed.
“Magic, absolutely unbelievable – I didn’t know that I had beaten him until I saw the reaction of the crowd. Winning the title means everything to me – that last lap was amazing, it was BSB wanted and I gave it to them. I just got into the rhythm and rode as hard as I could so to come out on top like this is just so special.”
“I’m gobsmacked. I’ve tried to stay as relaxed as possible since receiving the trophy. The season puts a lot of pressure and that reflects on everyone. It was just a shock that a whole season can come down to that. I wanted it badly and it was do or die.”
Hopkins was understandably devastated upon his arrival in parc ferme but was gracious in defeat, “hats off to him, he won. There was nothing more that I could have done,” he added.
Almost forgotten in the drama, Byrne took victory by just over four seconds, ending a superb season on a high with Hill and Hopkins joining him on the final podium of the year. Ellison ended up in fourth, just ahead of Laverty who got his own back on Brookes with a pass at Paddock Hill bend three laps from home.
Michael Rutter took seventh ahead of EVO winner Graeme Gowland who finished the season with nine straight class victories. Peter Hickman was ninth while Ryuichi Kiyonari surrendered his crown in muted fashion with tenth place.