Question: How do you top winning the closest British Superbike Championship title battle in the history of the sport? If you're Tommy Hill, the answer was to do it all over again…
In some ways, Tommy Hill came into the 2012 MCE British Superbike Championship under more pressure to succeed than he ever had to contend with in 2011, the reigning champion knowing full well that anything less than a back-to-back title on the same Swan Yamaha would be seen as a come down from his extraordinary victory the previous year.
Save for an indifferent opening few rounds, Hill didn't take long to rediscover the form that took him to the title in 2011, reeling off seven victories prior to the 'Title Showdown' to not only give himself a comfortable buffer heading into the shootout, but affirm his 'favourite' status.
However, having been one of the beneficiaries of the 'equalising' format in 2011 (after an early season injury forced him to play catch up), Hill would find himself on the receiving end this time, his sizeable advantage all but wiped out in just one round courtesy of a bizarre DNF at Assen when he crashed lining up on the grid.
Then again, if Assen was a freak set-back, an unusually lacklustre performance at Silverstone (two seventh place finishes) were all Hill's doing and the results would prove terminal for his title dreams. Quite the turnaround, it had taken just four races to undo Hill's hard work over the previous eight rounds…
Recovering some honour to secure third in the standings, it was an unsatisfying end to what had looked like another fine year for Hill, even if he did have the mild satisfaction of out-pacing legendary team-mate Noriyuki Haga.
Indeed, the stakes were high for Hill in 2012, the 27-year-old suggesting his 2011 victory should have been enough to earn him a top ride in the British Superbike Championship, just like Shane Byrne and Leon Camier before him.
A repeat title would have assured his status and perhaps given him that much longed-for WSBK shot, but instead Hill is hanging up his leathers for 2013. Few will deny that it is a big loss for the sport…
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Top 10 BSB Rider of the Year 2012:
6. Chris Walker