1st – Ryuichi Kiyonari
Average poll score out of ten: 9.0
You only have to take a look at Ryuichi Kiyonari's previous results in our Rider of the Year poll below to see just how much of an enigma he has been in the British Superbike Championship – on the four occasions he has featured, he has twice finished last and now he has also twice finished first!
Of course, Kiyonari's lowly standing in previous years (2013 and 2011 to be exact) can be justified by the incredibly high standard he created before we began our annual end-of-season poll, but it was also a measure of how visibly disillusioned the triple champion had become in the Honda camp as his form fluctuated wildly between exemplary to strangely anonymous last year.
Furthermore, such was his long, unbroken association with the Japanese marque that when the manufacturer announced its hiatus from BSB, many assumed this was the last we had seen of Kiyonari, a rather anti-climactic and undignified exit for one of the series' greatest riders.
And yet, Kiyonari turned up to the 2014 grid in very unfamiliar surroundings following a surprise switch to the Buildbase team and BMW machinery. One of the winter's biggest stories, though cynics didn't anticipate much from a rider apparently on the downturn riding a bike that hadn't even managed a podium in BSB, many others saw this as an opportunity to reinvigorate his career with an entirely new challenge.
As we now know, it was the latter that would prove true, Kiyonari developing a quick affinity with the S1000RR, a bike that was always quick, but hadn't developed into a frequent front runner since its arrival on the scene in 2010.
Though niggling issues early on meant it wasn't until round four that the Japanese rider hit his stride, once he did he was on a par with Shane Byrne. A memorable victory at Knockhill was followed by more race winning success at Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Donington Park, performances that not only propelled him into the Title Showdown, but placed him on a relatively even keel with Byrne coming into the three-event shootout.
Invigorating the coined 'War for Four' battle, a term originally conceived at the start of 2013 when Kiyonari was anticipated to lock horns against fellow three-time champion Byrne only for the tagline to be quickly shelved when his form was less than sparkling, this time the title fight was very much still on.
Indeed, this was the head-to-head BSB fans had been waiting for, Byrne and Kiyonari having notched up 108 race wins between them and six titles over the last eight years. Byrne may have had the edge on victories, but the three races at Brands Hatch would ultimately prove – for the time being at least – who was the best BSB rider of all time…
At least it would have done if the championship wasn't cruelly determined by a sprinkling of rain, a slight over-eagerness on the throttle and an awkward landing… Unfortunately, for all of the pre-weekend promotion and anticipation, it would take a relatively low-speed fall in slippery conditions during FP3 for Kiyonari to suffer a collarbone injury serious enough to scupper his title dreams.
A damp outcome to extinguish a brewing blaze, though Byrne was certainly the worthy winner – on statistics alone –, it was Kiyonari's career-180 that captured fans' imagination in 2014 and it is why he has landed this year's BSB Rider of the Year accolade for the second time.
Whether he can avoid the pitfalls of previous years in 2015 remains to be seen, but Kiyonari's smile was a welcome sight to see again this year.
BSB Rider of the Year poll
2. Shane Byrne
3. Chris Walker
4. James Ellison
5. Tommy Bridewell
6. Dan Linfoot
7. Peter Hickman
8. Josh Waters
9. Josh Brookes
10. Howie Mainwaring
Shane Byrne in the BSB Rider of the Year poll
Top 10 BSB Rider of the Year 2013:
Top 10 BSB Rider of the Year 2012:
Top 10 BSB Rider of the Year 2011:
Top 10 BSB Rider of the Year 2010:
Top 10 BSB Rider of the Year 2009:
Do you agree the poll results? If not, why not? Leave your comments below...
About the vote:
Rather than repeat the Riders' British Championship standings, the BSB Rider of the Year poll asks viewers to take into account factors such as machinery, performance relative to a team-mate, riding style, experience, injuries, progress and personality just as much as race results.
Over 30,000 votes were cast for the 2014 Crash.net
BSB Rider of the Year poll, where viewers awarded each of the top twenty from this year's BSB standings with a mark out of ten.