As the British Superbike contingent are busy preparing for action at Oulton Park’s ‘triple-header’ this weekend – the first three-race weekend of the year – I confess that my passion for the sport is once again kicking into overdrive. Fresh from my track-side adventure at Thruxton just a few days ago I realise I’ve been here before…
At some point during 2013 excitement and enthusiasm got the better of me. It was regarding the fabulous British Superbike Championship and the quest for a record breaking fourth title for either Shane Byrne or Ryuichi Kiyonari. It was billed as the ‘War for Four’ and I very firmly jumped on the bandwagon and believed the hype.
As it was, neither man won the title; instead Alex Lowes and his Samsung Honda claimed a maiden success despite being pressed hard all season by Byrne. Kiyonari was never really in the hunt, struggling on the sister Samsung machine. And so the ‘War for Four’ fizzled out along with Lowes’ Champagne come season’s end.
Now though, battle has recommenced. Lowes has moved on to bigger a brighter things, namely the World Superbike Championship, leaving the path seemingly clear for Byrne to go forth and claim his record fourth crown. It seemed even more likely that 2014 would go the way of Byrne when it was announced that, for the first time since time began, Kiyonari would not be riding a Honda. Instead, the ‘Samurai of Slide’ had defected to the Buildbase BMW squad, severing the long lasting links with his beloved Japanese firm. If Kiyonari couldn’t win on the trusty Honda, what chance did he have on a BMW?
Well, quite a good one as it turns out. While Byrne has started the season in typical fashion – by winning a lot – Kiyonari has seemingly found a new lease of life: after several years in the doldrums, Kiyo’ has gelled with the BMW better than most thought he would and by the mid-point of the season the Japanese star has claimed a race victory at both Brands Hatch and Knockhill. Add to that a scattering of podiums and Kiyonari is very much in the hunt for an unprecedented title number four.
But it’s not as simple as a Byrne/Kiyonari shoot-out. The ‘War for Four’ has other troops, all waging in to spoil Byrne and Kiyonari’s victory party. Add to the mix Josh Brookes, the Aussie super-star who has become a fan favourite with his battling riding style and ability to ruffle the feathers of the champions. Yet to win the British title himself, Brookes is also seen as somewhat of an underdog – an appealing trait in the eyes of the British public. Armed now with a new Yamaha, 2014 could very well be Brookes’ year, prompting quite possibly a ‘War for Four..Take 3’ in 2015.
Add to the mix also James Ellison…then perhaps remove him again. The Cumbrian was looking good, consistently quick and able to challenge Byrne and Brooks until a monster crash at Brands Hatch left him with a broken hip. At time of writing Ellison has only missed the two races held at Thruxton but with Brookes, Byrne and Kiyonari all claiming podiums in that order for both races, Ellison’s title charge has already taken a beating. With BSB’s unique scoring system it isn’t all over for Ellison in 2014 but a lot will depend on when he returns and how fit he will be.
Consider also the likes of Tommy Bridewell, Dan Linfoot – he who performed impeccably at Thruxton – and the wily old fox Chris Walker; whoever wins the 2014 British Superbike title will have earned it. One thing is for sure: if it comes down to a straight fight between Byrne and Kiyonari, the gloves will come off; it will be more that just a battle for the championship, it will be all out war for title number four.