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After a long, cold winter the 2013 MCE British Superbike Championship roars into life once again with a healthy-looking grid of 25 riders, 16 teams and six manufacturers set to line up for the traditional opener at Brands Hatch.
Looking ahead to the new season, the decision to bring official pre-season testing onto home shores has had the effect of making things wholly inconclusive after freezing temperatures and wet weather limited pre-season mileage. It's also having the effect of keeping things very open heading into the year…
Even so, there are plenty of 'usual suspects' expected to be at the sharp end from the off, not least reigning champion Shane Byrne, who will be looking to make it back-to-back titles on the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki.
Perhaps more significantly, he will also be striving for a record-breaking fourth BSB title, but it's an accolade he will face substantial competition from in the form of Ryuichi Kiyonari, who is making a return to the British series he conquered in 2006, 2007 and 2010 in an attempt to snatch that elusive fourth crown.
The Japanese rider has been quick on his return to the Samsung Honda team in testing too, though his efforts have been overshadowed somewhat by new team-mate Alex Lowes, who gets his shot on a factory-supported bike after his unexpected title tilt in 2012 with the now-defunct Team WFR. Arguably the pace setter during an admittedly truncated pre-season testing period, Lowes could prove a thorn in what is being billed as the 'War for Four'.
Similarly, after coming so close last year – and scoring the most points overall -, Josh Brookes is certain 2013 will be the year that he secures his first BSB title and a first for Suzuki since 2004.
Of the six that progressed to the 'Title Showdown' in 2012, only four remain this year – Michael Laverty will race in MotoGP and Tommy Hill is taking a sabbatical -, with Tommy Bridewell moving over to series returnees Quay Garage Honda (racing under the Bathams Honda banner) in an effort to build on his breakthrough season last year.
Notably, the international presence of this year's BSB series is impressive, including highly-rated Australian Superbike Champion Josh Waters (Milwaukee Yamaha), Robbin Harms (Doodson Honda) and Matteo Baiocco (Moto Rapido Ducati), while Jakub Smrz may also be present on the grid this year.