The last time any British Superbike racing took place, we witnessed a race that will go down in motorsport history as an all-time classic. Just two points separated Tommy Hill and John Hopkins heading into the final race of the year and with one lap to go, the two protagonists were nose to tail.
88 seconds and 2.4 miles later, Hill was crowned champion in one of the closest and most dramatic finishes to a season. The dejected Hopkins missed out on the title by six thousandths of a second and if any proof was needed about the fine margins being dealt with in motorcycle racing, that was it.
Hopkins has opted not to have a second crack at the championship and has moved on to the world stage, following the Crescent Suzuki team to SBK, but Hill will still have plenty of competition. In fact, it's probably even stiffer than last year.
The reigning champion has been rewarded for his success with the introduction of a world class superbike racer alongside him with Swan Yamaha signing Noriyuki Haga for 2012. 43 victories and over 100 podiums in SBK say everything about the class of rider that Hill will be up against in the new season and if he is to become only the third rider to successfully defend his crown, he will have to work extremely hard for it.
Despite being a domestic championship, there is a world-class field lining up for the new season with Paul Bird Motorsport also joining the fold. After previously running the Kawasaki SBK squad, the Penrith-based team have secured two ZX-10Rs for their full-time BSB challenge and a high-profile sponsor.
The team, now known as Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki, have also signed two-time champion Shane 'Shakey' Byrne to lead the team, with Stuart Easton making a welcome return from injury alongside him. The Scotsman hasn't raced since his horrific crash at the North West 200 but there is no doubting his class, and everyone will be delighted to see him back.
With Byrne switching sides and Ryuichi Kiyonari's departure, Honda have been on a recruitment drive and have an all-new rider line-up as they look to regain the championship. Michael Laverty made the showdown last season but couldn't quite challenge the top three and that will be his task as team leader. Riders Cup winner Jon Kirkham is another rider looking to join the elite and he will partner the Ulsterman.
Crescent's departure to SBK leaves us with one Suzuki-powered team in the field but TAS Racing will aim to use that to their advantage. The newly-named Tyco Suzuki team have retained Josh Brookes, a showdown competitor in each of the last two seasons, and have added reigning Supersport Champion Alastair Seeleyto the fold. On paper, very few teams have a stronger pairing than that.
|2012 BSB Calendar|
|1 & 2||Brands Hatch Indy||9th April|
|3 & 4||Thruxton||15th April|
|5 & 6||Oulton Park||7th May|
|7 & 8||Snetterton 300||27th May|
|9 & 10||Knockhill||24th June|
|11 & 12||Oulton Park||8th July|
|13, 14 & 15||Brands Hatch GP||21st/22nd July|
|16 & 17||Cadwell Park||27th August|
|18 & 19||Donington Park||9th September|
|20 & 21||TT Circuit Assen||23rd September|
|22 & 23||Silverstone||30th September|
|23, 24 & 25||Brands Hatch GP||13th/14th October|
MSS Bathams Kawasaki can rival them for experience as Michael Rutter enters his 19th British Superbike season on the ZX-10R. Up and coming Peter Hickman will provide tough opposition on the sister bike as he looks to build on a season which brought a maiden podium finish.
New rules for 2012, including a standard ECU, have effectively brought the entire championship towards the EVO rules of recent seasons. This could play beautifully into the hands of WFR Honda who dominated that class in 2011. Glen Richards may have taken the title but Graeme Gowland was unbeatable in the second half of the season and will be expected to lead the Yorkshire outfit. Alex Lowes and James Westmoreland are also on-board to make up one of the most exciting rider combinations on the grid.
The regulations have also encouraged new teams to enter the championship such as GBmoto Racing and Padgetts Racing who have moved up from National Superstock 1000 while Supersonic BMW have left World Superbikes to race in BSB. The Italian team haven't had an ideal preparation though with Anthony West leaving in the build-up to Brands Hatch to take up a ride in Moto2.
Despite being the British Championship, the series maintains an international flavour as six men from overseas make their debuts. Along with Haga at Swan Yamaha, former World Endurance Champion Freddy Foray will make his bow with Quattro Plant Kawasaki while Alessandro Polita, once a World Superstock 1000 champion, will ride for Jentin Doodson Ducati. Florian Marino (Splitlath-Redmond Aprilia) and Luca Scassa (Padgetts Honda) have both moved across from World Supersport and for the first time, BSB will have a Saudi rider in the form of Abdul Aziz bin Laden.
BSB will travel the length and breadth of the British Isles once again but for the first time, will also head to the Netherlands with the historic Assen circuit kicking off the Showdown in late September. Silverstone will follow a week later while Brands Hatch's GP loop will once again play host to the series finale in October.
The beauty of the showdown format means we are almost guaranteed a final round shootout but on paper, the 2012 MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship looks set to be as close as ever. So many different rider-bike combinations look strong on paper but only this weekend will we know who has the speed on the tarmac. 26 races will decide out champion and if we get anything close to the epic climax of 2011, this year will go down as another one to remember.
2012 MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship – Confirmed Rider Line-Up
|Swan Yamaha (Yamaha YZF-R1)|
|1.||Tommy Hill||41.||Noriyuki Haga|
|Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki (Kawasaki ZX-10R)|
|3.||Stuart Easton||67.||Shane Byrne|
|Samsung Honda (Honda CBR1000RR)|
|7.||Michael Laverty||10.||Jon Kirkham|
|Tyco Suzuki (Suzuki GSX-R1000)|
|2.||Josh Brookes||34.||Alastair Seeley|
|MSS Bathams Kawasaki (Kawasaki ZX-10R)|
|4.||Michael Rutter||60.||Peter Hickman|
|Team WFR (Honda CBR1000RR)|
|22.||Alex Lowes||27.||J.Westmoreland||81.||Graeme Gowland|
|Pr1mo Bournemouth Kawasaki (Kawasaki ZX-10R)|
|9.||Chris Walker||37.||James Hillier|
|Quattro Plant Kawasaki (Kawasaki ZX-10R)|
|78.||Freddie Foray||101.||Gary Mason|
|Buildbase BMW (BMW S1000RR)|
|19.||Dan Linfoot||77.||Barry Burrell|
|Splitlath-Redmond Racing (Aprilia RSV4 1000)|
|14.||John Laverty||21.||Florian Marino|
|Moto Rapido Ducati (Ducati 1199 Panigale)|
|36.||Abdulaziz Binladin||88.||Scott Smart|
|Jentin Doodson Motorsport (Ducati 1199 Panigale)|
|20.||Tom Tunstall||53.||Alessandro Polita|
|GBmoto Racing (Honda CBR1000RR)|
|33.||Tristan Palmer||51.||Luke Quigley|
|Padgetts Racing (Honda CBR1000RR)|
|5.||Ian Lowry||99.||Luca Scassa|
|Supersonic BMW (BMW S1000RR)|
|24.||Patric Muff||46.||Tommy Bridewell|
|Hardinge Sorrymate.com Honda (Honda CBR1000RR)|