British Superbikes 2013 is being billed as the ‘War for Four’ and frankly, it needs this headline to raise the spirits of those who have been left disheartened by 2011 champion and crowd favourite Tommy Hill’s decision to step away from the sport for a year. Hill’s departure leaves Shane ‘Shakey’ Byne and the returning Ryuichi ‘Kiyo’ Kiyonari to fight it out to become the sports most decorated rider and the first ever four-time champion.
With Kiyo returning after one year away, it may take time for the Japanese rider to settle back into the rhythm and pace of the BSB while in contrast, Shakey is carrying the momentum, having won all three races at the final round of 2012 to secure his third title. While the majority of the fans will doubtless be cheering for Kent-born Shakey, the combination of Kiyo and Honda will be formidable.
As well as momentum, Byrne has experience on his side with a staggering 219 races under his belt and with his never-say-die attitude and proven ability to win on any number of machinery he his arguably the title favourite going into the season.
On paper however, Kiyonari is the most successful rider in BSB’s history with 43 race wins – two more than Byrne. The Japanese rider is undoubtedly one of the greatest talents the series has ever seen and following a year spent road-racing in Asia, the returning Kiyo will be hungrier than ever to prove that he still has what it takes to tackle the challenging venues of Britain and beat the best riders BSB has to offer.
Age is very much on Kiyo’s side with the Honda rider six years younger than Shakey and this could be a telling factor in what will be a long campaign. Not only that, when Kiyo is on form he’s proved almost impossible to beat as demonstrated during his three title-winning years with Honda in 2006, 2007 and 2010. At the same time however, when Kiyo fails to find the sweet spot he can go unnoticed and appear at the end of races with the also-rans; it’s a rare scenario but one that – if it occurs often – could give Byrne the upper hand.
Both riders boast experience on the world stage – in World Superbikes and MotoGP – but with the prospect of becoming the first quadruple champion, it’s the British stage that will play host to the pair’s toughest fight yet.
With his remarkable record with Honda, it would take a brave man to bet against the cool, quiet and calculated Kiyo striking gold once again. A fool however, would also bet against the contrasting loud and humorous Shakey taking title number four.
It will be a thrilling season regardless of who wins the ‘War for Four’ but of course, it may not be settled in 2013. With such a build up and the majority of attention on Shakey and Kiyo it will only spur on the other contenders to prove they are worthy of such headlines. The likes of Josh Brookes, Chris ‘The Stalker’ Walker, Italian Champion Matteo Baiocco and others will no doubt feature throughout the year and will want to prove themselves worthy of the 2013 British Superbike Championship.