2011 British Superbike
This weekend, the fifth round of the 2011 British Superbike Championship gets underway at Knockhill.
HM Plant Honda rider Shane Byrne leads the series after three British SBK victories, but not far behind is his rival, the American John Hopkins on the Samsung Crescent Suzuki GSX-R1000, who will be seeking another victory in Knockhill.
However with six different British Superbike race winners from eight races so far this season it will not be an easy task for the former double champion.
The HM Plant Honda rider is determined to consolidate his position in the top six and also score the all important podium credits which come into play in the final seven race "Showdown" in his efforts to take the British crown for a third time.
Byrne goes into these races with bitter-sweet memories of the Fife circuit; he has previously taken four victories there, including a winning double in 2003 as he took the British Superbike title for the first time. However the last time he rode there in 2008 he ended his weekend with a high-speed crash, although he recovered to regain the crown by the end of the year.
Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda CBR1000 British Superbike) says: "I quite like the track and they are always good, fun races although in saying that last time I raced there back in 2008 I had a big crash. We only go north of the border once so I want to put on a good show for the fans up there and I am sure we will. Last year both HM Plant Hondas were on the podium so looking at that it should be another good track for us. It would certainly be good to get another win or two and I am sure the team will have everything ready to go so we can get out there for the races and try and keep the momentum going."
Hopkins goes into these races just 15 points adrift of Byrne and is feeling confident that he can close in on his rival after familiarising himself with the circuit during a recent test and feels he can add to his podium tally for the Samsung Crescent Suzuki team this weekend.
John Hopkins (Samsung Crescenet Suzuki GSX-R1000 British Superbike) says: "We had a test at Knockhill recently and we achieved what we needed to in terms of me learning the track in the dry. It is a fun small track and it has a lot packed in with the fast and slow sections and I have had fun learning it. I am feeling really confident and I want to achieve another good set of results and score some more of those podium credits."
The Swan Yamaha duo of Tommy Hill and Michael Laverty are also focused on the top six and are currently fourth and fifth respectively but know that they cannot give an inch if they want to remain there as Tyco Honda’s Peter Hickman completes the current top six. The Lincolnshire rider has proved he has the pace to be a title contender on the championship-winning Fireblade of last year and is ready to build on the second place he scored in the previous round.
That is piling the pressure on to the three time champion Ryuichi Kiyonari who is defending the number one place; he has to begin his fight-back here to have any chance of being in contention for a place in the Showdown. The HM Plant Honda rider has scored only seven points in the previous four races and that has dropped him into seventh place in the standings, but he is still only five points adrift of Hill in fourth.
Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda CBR1000 British Superbike) says: "The last two rounds have been disappointing for me and I haven’t had the results that we need for the championship. I need to come back and be fighting here with Shakey and the other riders so we can be back in the top six which is so important."
Michael Rutter who took the victory in last year’s rain spoiled event is only three points down on Kiyonari and the Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati rider believes that he can move inside the top six, a view that is also shared by Jon Kirkham aboard the second Samsung Crescent Suzuki.
The rider who could upset all of those plans is Alex Lowes who continues to deputise for the injured Stuart Easton aboard the MSS Colchester Kawasaki. He underlined his ability by taking the both his and the team’s first pole position at Thruxton and is focussed on a strong points haul.
In the Mirror.co.uk BSB-EVO class the WFR Honda team have signed Californian Jake Zemke to complete their three-pronged attack on the title. The double American Formula Extreme champion was also third in the American Superbike Championship last season and lines up alongside Glen Richards and Graeme Gowland from this weekend. However the team face tough opposition as Buildbase BMW’s Barry Burrell aims to pick up where he left off when he took his first double win last time out at Thruxton.