As the season’s narrative unfolds and we discover the form of our main characters it becomes apparent that ‘War for Four’ was perhaps an ambitious and excitable sub-title for British Superbike 2013; the original plot had the three-time BSB champion Ryuichi Kiyonari return to the series to take on fellow triple-champ Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne in a bid to become the first ever four-time British Superbike champion. But as Kiyonari gradually finds his footing aboard his Samsung Honda during a re-acclimatisation period for the returning champion, Byrne has shown nothing but impeccable pace to currently lead the championship by 29 points, 155 ahead of Kiyonari.
Byrne may be the season’s main character and favourite of the two three-timers but he’s not the only hero of this tale. Although Kiyonari has yet to trouble the front-runners on a consistent basis, the likes of Josh Brookes, Alex Lowes and James Ellison have begun to wage their own civil war against Byrne; a ‘War for Four’ looks unlikely but the battle for the championship rages on and this story is building to a climactic close.
From the first chapter it was clear that Kiyonari would require that re-acclimatisation period; an off-the-pace Kiyo wasn’t something we were used to in previous tales from the Japanese rider’s career and fans of close racing should be grateful that the BSB field is full of eager, talented and entertaining personalities who can fight for the title while Kiyo works out the kinks:
Josh Brookes and Alex Lowes have presented themselves as Shane Byrne’s closest rivals – taking two race victories each compared to Byrnes nine – and have both vowed to push Bryne to the limit at the remaining rounds. What remains to be seen however, is the pair’s mental fortitude when it comes to clinching one of the most demanding and closely fought domestic championships in the world.
Australian Brookes has been racing in the series since 2009 and twice finished runner-up. His versatility has been demonstrated impressively throughout 2013 with stints in endurance racing and a record-setting appearance at the Isle of Mann TT where he became the fastest rookie to lap the mountain road course. With wins at Brands Hatch in July and Oulton Park in August, plus a string of second places, Brookes’ consistency is keeping him within striking distance of championship success. His Aussie grit is evident, his talent and speed impressive but he’ll have to draw on all his racing experience if he’s to topple Byrne from the top.
Alex Lowes meanwhile, has racing in his blood; his twin brother Sam currently competes in the World SuperSport championship and both brothers have an added bonus in the form of tuition from 2003 World Champion Neil Hodgson. Hodgson’s influence will no doubt help Alex but will his comparative lack of experience hinder his title bid? Wins at Oulton Park in May and Snetterton two months later were highlights, but throwing his Honda at the hedges on the last corner at Oulton Park in August whilst running third was perhaps a sign that the pressure is beginning to take its toll.
James Ellison has ridden in many different categories of two-wheeled racing and his talent is undoubted but a lack of consistency – 5 races with no points earned – has left the Milwaukee Yamaha rider a distant fourth in the championship with 11 races to go. He too has two victories to his name this year and now appears to be on top of the issues he and his team faced earlier in the season. Like Kiyonari in fifth, Ellison will be counting on the British Superbike’s unique scoring system to help him reach the pinnacle when this story comes to an end…
In a bid to keep the championship fight rolling into the final race of the season, BSB introduced ‘The Showdown’ in 2010 – a climax to finish the year’s story with a bang. It was greeted with mixed reactions, some saying it was merely a gimmick, others were open-minded and more welcoming. The first 19 races of the season see the winner awarded 25 points, 20 for second, 16 for third and so on down to fifteenth position. The top three however, also receive ‘podium credits’ – three for the winner, two for second and a solitary credit for third. At the end of those 19 races, the top 6 in the championship based on points are automatically inducted into ‘the showdown’ were their points will all be reset to 500. Their individual ‘podium credits’ will then be added on to those 500 points giving, probably, a much closer championship than what we had before and enabling the likes of James Ellison and Ryuichi Kiyonari to fight for the title in the remaining seven races. Some believe it to overcomplicate the championship but in essence it injects a twist into the season’s penultimate chapter and sets up the final to be as climactic as it can possibly get.
Ultimately, the best rider will emerge victorious and while many people’s hearts will want the hero of this tale to be Brookes, Lowes, Ellison or Kiyonari, few heads will say anything other than Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne for title number four. Whatever the outcome, BSB 2013 is proving to be one of the more compelling dramas from this year’s motor racing library.
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