BSB 2011 – Round Seven – Oulton Park
BSB returns to Oulton Park with Hill looking to get back on top
John Hopkins enjoyed his maiden victory in the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship at Oulton Park earlier in the season and now as the country’s premier series returns to the Cheshire circuit the Samsung Crescent Suzuki rider is eager for more of the same to move him closer to the crown.
That is also the focus for reigning triple champion Ryuichi Kiyonari who took his winning tally at the circuit to ten back in May and now with his confidence in the HM Plant Honda enhanced given the ongoing development works he believes that he can again take the top step of the podium as he did last time out at Snetterton.
That victory took Kiyonari into fourth place in the points, sandwiched in between the two Swan Yamaha riders, Michael Laverty and Tommy Hill who goes into these races with a point to prove having suffered bitter disappointments on his previous two visits, first losing the crown at the final hurdle of last term and this time around suffering a serious shoulder injury in a heavy tumble.
Heading the pack is the former two times title winner Shane Byrne on the second HM Plant Honda who needs to fight his way back on to the top step of the podium to end a run of four races without a victory during which time his lead has been cut back to only 19 points.
The title fight is reaching fever pitch with the focus for all riders to consolidate their positions in the top six to ensure they qualify as “Title-fighters” for the final Showdown sequence, at the same time racking up the all important podium credit scores. The current leading five can take little for granted as they are under threat from a pack of eight riders separated by only 57 points.
There is everything to play for, ensuring that these races are thrillers, something that is not lost on Byrne who explained: “I am really pumped up for these races though earlier in the season we struggled a bit there but we have made big steps forward since then so I am feeling pretty excited about the races this weekend.”
Hopkins is ready to take the fight to Byrne: “I’m feeling good about going back. I have fond memories of my win there and also excited that we have progressed quite a lot with the bike since then. This is the point in the season where I need to be accumulating podium credits and of course race wins.”
They will to have be at their best as Hill is determined to head them off: “I’m pretty confident as we had a good set-up and pace last time we were there and now I need to make amends for that crash which left me two races down on everyone else. I have to get back on the top step of the podium and have no worries about returning to the circuit – if I had, that would slow me down!”
Kiyonari returns to the racing from a hectic trip back to Japan for testing ahead of the Suzuka Eight Hours race and he is promising to use that additional track time to good effect, also changing his tactics: “I need to be more aggressive this weekend from the start. I feel happy with the bike and we have made improvement since the last round there when we won I want to win again for our championship but I think there will be a big fight as everyone wants to win.”
There are with Laverty among them together with Josh Brookes who began to turn his season around with a second place on the Relentless Suzuki at Snetterton while Peter Hickman who showed such promise with a second place at Thruxton on the Tyco Honda needs to re-kindle that form. Jon Kirkham won at Croft but has been inconsistent since on the second Samsung Suzuki. Gary Mason riding the MSS Colchester Kawasaki together with Loris Baz on the Motorpoint Yamaha and Michael Rutter on the Rapid Solicitors Bathams Ducati all need to re-boot their campaigns if they are to make the top six.
Glen Richards expects to extend his lead in the Mirror.co.uk BSB-EVO class though he will need to be mindful of the challenges from his WFR Honda team-mates Graeme Gowland and Jake Zemke who took the race wins last time out.