By Barry de Vries
On a cold and windy Thursday afternoon at Assen, the six 'Showdown' candidates for the 2012 British Superbike Championship crown made their first appearance out on track.
Not on their race bikes however, but on minibikes, offered to them by local young riders (pictured).
Reigning champion Tommy Hill decided not to risk his 2012 title chances, and watched his competitors fight it out.
He did however speak openly about a possible move to MotoGP next season with the British-based Paul Bird Motorsport team, which currently runs James Ellison. PBM is planning a two-rider entry for 2013.
"It's news, but no deal has been done yet," said Hill. "When people hear you are talking to teams, they immediately assume that I will be riding for that team.
"For now I need to focus on this championship, and try to win this title."
However Hill did confirm he is looking at new career opportunities.
"MotoGP could be a possibility, but I don't want to battle for 14th of 15th position. I'm a racer and I want to be competitive, with the possibility of wins.
"I'm strongly looking at a move to World Superbikes. I still have unfinished business there and it would be good to find a competitive team with whom I can fight for victory. That is very difficult though."
But the first thing on Hill's checklist is this weekend's BSB round at the legendary 'Cathedral of Motorsport'.
The move to Assen, and thereby the European mainland, is a big step for the British Superbike Championship.
"It shows that British Superbike is getting bigger every year and with riders from all over the world, this is a very competitive field," said Hill.
"There are over 60,000 BSB fans in the UK watching the races on television, and it would be great to have a lot of fans coming over to cheer for us in Assen."
Assen is the first of the three BSB Showdown rounds.
Due to his superior Main Season podium credits, Hill starts this weekend with a ten-point lead over nearest rival Josh Brookes. 35 points cover the top six.