The Easter Bank Holiday is upon us once more and while that may merely mean a day off work for some people, for petrol-heads it is better known as the start of the British Superbike Championship season.
With the conclusion of an astonishingly close 2011 season, when Tommy Hill squeezed out John Hopkins to win the title by a remarkable 0.006secs, still fresh in the mind, the 2012 rendition of British Superbikes certainly has a lot to live up to.
Despite this, the ingredients are certainly there for an even more exciting season, with champion Hill remaining on the Swan Yamaha to try and defend his title.
While few will bet against Hill to score another championship this year, the competition is arguably fiercer than ever, not least from his own camp since he is joined by none other than World Superbike star Noriyuki Haga. Possibly the finest-ever coup for the BSB series, the fan favourite's credentials speak for themselves, but while Hopkins shows prior experience of the UK's quirkier circuits isn't required, plenty of unknowns still surround Haga.
Indeed, the depth of competition makes it difficult to predict the immediate contenders, but Honda – resplendent with new Samsung backing – have shown well in testing with Michael Laverty and Jon Kirkham, while the ever-present Suzuki challenge, this time from Tyco (nee Relentless TAS), Josh Brookes and Alastair Seeley is likely to be straight one the pace too.
While they haven't won a BSB race since 2004 (excluding Tom Sykes's wild-card win in 2010 on the WSBK machine), perhaps the most striking revelation over the winter is the way Kawasaki have installed themselves as amongst the favourites, not least because there will be 8 of the ZX-10Rs on the grid. Of these, Shane Byrne and Stuart Easton on the PBM-prepared Rapid Solicitors machines, and possibly Michael Rutter on the Bathams bike, are likely to be the strongest contenders.
Ducati have also courted headlines over the winter with the introduction of the much anticipated 1199 Panigale, which will be campaigned by Moto Rapido and Doodson Motorsport, while Buildbase and WSBK alumni Supersonic will represent BMW and Splitlath continues as an Aprilia team.
The 2012 season will also see the introduction of revised regulations, which has limited the electronics available to riders. Intended to bring costs down and promote greater skill, the bikes are more akin to EVO machines that competed in 2010 and 2011. As such, WFR Honda, with its three-man line-up, and newcomers Padgetts Honda, fronted by World Supersport front runner Luca Scassa, have also been touted as contenders this year.
Naturally, we won't know exactly where everyone stands until racing gets underway at Brands Hatch this weekend - even creating a shortlist is tricky -, but we want you to put your money where your index finger is anyway and vote for who you think will emerge triumphant six months down the line…