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After 9 events and 19 races, the 2014 MCE British Superbike Championship Title Showdown gets underway this weekend with six riders all in contention to win this year's crown.
Though the unusual format, which concentrates its reward for success over the final three rounds, has drawn criticism in the past, it has at least achieved its aim of keeping fans guessing right up until the final race, not least in 2013 when Alex Lowes prevailed over Shane Byrne in a last race head-to-head.
Indeed, Byrne has reached the Title Showdown in each season since his return to BSB in 2011 and though his 2012 title was admittedly made possible by the 'equalising' method after getting injured mid-season, he has otherwise been vocal about his dislike for the format having lost out in 2011 despite scoring the most points over the entire year.
Indeed, the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki man would certainly have good reason to feel perturbed if he didn't win the 2014 BSB title having thus far won six races and stood on the podium in all-but-one so far this year.
As such, prior to the points being equalised for the Title Showdown, Byrne led the way in the overall standings by a massive 107 points. Though the value of podium credits has changed to reward race winners more, Byrne's lead has still been reduced significantly to just 26 points.
Furthermore, Byrne is arguably a man under pressure coming into the final three rounds at Assen, Silverstone and Brands Hatch. He may be a six-time race winner, but they all came in the opening four rounds, and while the metronomic consistency in podiums since then has seen him multiply his lead overall, such an approach won't be enough for the 'victory-or-else' Title Showdown format.
In terms of recent form, Byrne's biggest rival is arguably Ryuichi Kiyonari, the Japanese rider stealing the headlines in 2014 with his stunning return to form after an inspired move to Buildbase BMW, which has not only transformed manufacturer into a race winner in 2014, but turned it into a title contender. At his best, Kiyonari is hard to beat and his six wins match Byrne, though he has shown the odd error and his bike has been fallible too… just a single DNF would be enough to end a title challenge at this stage.
A mainstay of the Title Showdown, Josh Brookes is heading for his fifth stab at winning his elusive title, an objective given greater resonance by the earlier admission that he is leaving BSB at the end of the year (possibly to ride a BMW in WSBK). His trademark consistency hasn't quite been so prolific in 2014, but his Cadwell Park double this year and Brands Hatch triple last year shows Brookes can turn it on when it matters…
After a slow start to the year, Tommy Bridewell has come-of-age on the Milwaukee Yamaha in recent events, peaking with his fortuitous – but no less deserving – win at Cadwell Park and podiums in three of the last four races. A surprise Title Showdown member in 2012 on the Supersonic BMW, Bridewell rose to the occasion then on unfancied machinery, so has a great opportunity to do the same on the better-sorted Yamaha here.
It has been 14 years since Chris Walker last finished inside the top six at BSB level, but 2014 has shown quality doesn't age and the BSB veteran has been outstanding on the GBmoto Kawasaki this year. With a strong team behind him and a competitive bike, Walker has shown he can still mix with the best, and no-one begrudges him the opportunity to be here against stiff opposition.
Similarly, Dan Linfoot has emerged as this year's surprise standout, the young-yet-experienced rider finally fulfilling his potential on the Quattro Plant Kawasaki, his pain-staking consistency showing echoes of the results displayed by the aforementioned Bridewell in 2012. With just one podium to his name in his career, a title challenge seems unlikely, but this will be an ideal arena for him to catch some attention for 2015…
If anything, this year's Title Showdown is destined to be the closest in some time… so we want to know what you think?
Who will win the 2014 British Superbike Championship title?
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