Former British Superbike champion and present British Eurosport commentator James Whitham has given his predictions ahead of the 2011 BSB season-opener at Brands Hatch on Monday.

"There's a lot of anticipation this year with riders returning to the championship, like former winner Shakey Byrne. He's going to be quick, he's tested really well and he's with one of the top teams in HM Plant Honda," said Whitham.

"I think the fan's favourite is Tommy Hill. After a good season last year, he's swapped teams and he's very confident.

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"The defending champion Ryuichi Kiyonari is going to take some beating if he gets his eye in, but we know how fragile he can be, little things can put him off his stride so he's by no means a firm favourite in the championship for me."

Whitham - who will once again work alongside Jack Burnicle, Tony Carter and James Haydon at British Eurosport - is especially looking forward to the BSB debut of former MotoGP star John Hopkins.

Hopkins, who finished tenth in a stand-in ride for Rizla Suzuki during last Sunday's Spanish MotoGP, has signed for the Crescent Samsung BSB team.

"John Hopkins is a big coup for the championship," said Whitham. "He's a colourful character, he's loud and he's got the biggest baseball cap in the world!

"I can't wait to see how he's going to get to grips with the best, quirky British tracks. There's no doubt the man has got the talent if he's still got the fire in his belly and he can get his head around the circuits."

2011 will be the second year that BSB has used a two-part championship points system.

Following the first nine events, the top six riders in the standings will qualify for 'The Showdown' and become the 'Title Fighters' for the remaining three events, battling it out to become champion.

They will each be awarded 500 points, plus additional points for each podium they have achieved up to that point.

Meanwhile the remaining riders will continue to contest the 'British Superbike Riders' Cup'.