The surprise return of Ryuichi Kiyonari to the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship has set the scene for an all-time classic duel in 2013. The Japanese ace will go head-to-head with reigning champion Shane "Shakey" Byrne in a quest for a record breaking fourth title to become BSB's most decorated rider.
Kiyonari and Byrne have lit up the British Superbike Championship in recent years with Shakey winning titles in 2003, 2008 and 2012, while Kiyo struck gold in 2006, 2007 and 2010. Both have their eyes fixed on a fourth crown providing all the ingredients to produce one of the most talked about duels on two wheels in 2013. Here we take a look at their history in the BSB and asses their chances of winning the War for Four.
#67 Shane "Shakey" Byrne - Reigning three-time champion
|Race win percentage||19%|
Why Shakey will triumph
With 219 BSB races under his belt, Byrne is one of the most experienced riders on the grid and has always presented a never say die attitude both on and off the track. The 36-year-old from Kent has proved to be a versatile rider picking up titles on board both Ducati and Kawasaki machines. He also came very close to winning the 2011 championship while riding a Honda alongside Kiyo and enjoyed success with Suzuki.
Shakey has built up a huge following since joining the championship in 1999 which could be crucial in recording a fourth title. After claiming his first title with a dominant season in 2003, Shakey went on to compete in Moto GP before returning to BSB in 2006. A second title came with GSE Racing in 2008 and a stint in World Superbikes showed he can compete with the world's best though speed didn't always translate to results. Byrne returned to BSB in 2011 and in has confirmed he will stay with Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki in 2013 to aid his pursuit of a fourth title. There is no doubt he is up for the fight!
Byrne said: "We are within sight of some records and so for the first time ever in my career, I am riding for the same team again but it wasn't really a difficult decision to make. We are going into 2013 even stronger and with a few improvements to the bike as well as me training harder than ever, I'm hoping I can defend the title but it won't be easy."
Momentum gained from his successful title bid in 2012 could be hard to stop in 2013 and he will be considered a favourite with the bookies already.
#23 Ryuichi "Kiyo" Kiyonari - Former three-time champion
|Race win percentage||27%|
Why Kiyo will triumph
On paper Kiyonari is the most successful rider in BSB's history with 43 race wins. The Japanese ace's win tally just goes to show what a prodigious talent he is and after a year away he is hungrier than ever for more success. 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 a long campaign.
When Kiyo is on form he's proved to be a hard man to stop highlighted by three victorious seasons with Honda in 2006, 2007 and 2010. However, the enigma from the east can go unnoticed when he is failing to find the sweet spot on his machine. But a year away from the BSB paddock, which saw him lift the Asian Road Race Championship, has reignited his desire for glory.
Kiyonari said: "I am very, very happy to be back because I have missed BSB so much. I miss the championship: the races, the fans, the team - all of it and that is why I have returned. I have to give more than one hundred percent and I want a fourth title to show that I can do it again. My aim is for more wins and to be champion again."
He too boasts experience in World Superbikes and Moto GP alongside his incredibly impressive BSB record. The cool, quiet and calculated Kiyo is a stark contrast to Shakey giving the title battle another edge. With his sensational record with Honda, it would take a brave man to bet against Kiyo striking gold once again.
BSB legend James Whitham's verdict:
"Shakey has won his three championships over a longer spread of time, on a greater variety of machines than Kiyo, who has always been a Honda man. Even if Shakey is not so happy with his set-up or tyres or anything else, he is more likely to dig a damage limiting result out from somewhere.
"There is absolutely no doubting Kiyo's talent and speed, but I feel that if things aren't going his way or if the bike doesn't give him the exact feeling he needs to quick and win then he is likely to finish out of the top ten. But who knows, if the bike is just the way he wants he wants it and if he can ride at his best then you wouldn't bet against the Japanese rider."
BSB Commentator Jack Burnicle's verdict:
"What a contrasting pair of characters...
Shakey is sunny, outgoing, witty, upbeat, brash and outwardly relaxed, with thinning fair hair and piercing, pale blue eyes...
"Kiyo is quiet, introverted, polite, broody, boyish and sweet, with thick black hair and deep brown eyes...
"Championships three apiece, race wins 43 - 41 in favour of Kiyo; but Shakey coming off the shimmering success of 2012 and Kiyo (despite his improved Asian diversion) off the miserable under-achievement of 2011.
"What a contest in prospect!"
Will history be made? Make sure you follow the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship in 2013 for a battle not to be missed.
Last updated: Thursday, December 20, 2012