While some may consider his frustrating two-year tenure in MotoGP as the defining moment of what is now a long career on the international motorcycling scene, James Toseland cannot be forgotten as the man that has two World Superbike titles to his name.
The Briton’s career has peaked and troughed over the years, and while his most recent foray to WSBK has not quite been the success he – and many – had predicted, there is no denying the talents of a man that has racked up 16 WSBK wins over the years.
Toseland, a former trials rider who overcame family problems and injury early in his career, made his first impression on the motorcycling scene with a run to third position in the British Supersport Championship, a performance that saw him promoted to the Castrol-backed Honda outfit on the world championship for both 1998 and 1999, the then 19-year-old improving to 11th position at the second attempt.
Returning to the domestic scene in 2000 for his Superbike debut with the Paul Bird Honda team, Toseland endured a tough maiden campaign on the faster machinery with a run to 12th position overall.
Nonetheless, he was still rewarded with a spot in GSE Racing’s World Superbike effort for 2001 alongside Neil Hodgson aboard a Ducati. Toseland did not disgrace himself alongside accomplished rivals to finish the year in 13th overall and clutching a best finish of sixth on home ground at Brands Hatch.
Staying with Ducati but switching to HM Plant, Toseland made notable strides in 2002, proving a consistent top ten performer to lift him up to seventh position in the final standings. However, whilst he did climb onto the podium for the first time with a run to third at Assen, it was a single occurrence.
His progress helped him secure a stay of execution with the team, Toseland capitalising on Ducati’s dominance of the field to add another nine podiums to his tally. More significant was his long awaited first win at Oschersleben, a performance that helped him secure third in the standings and an opportunity to replace Neil Hodgson at the factory Fila Ducati team for 2004.
With nothing less than the title expected of him, Toseland lived up to expectations to snatch the 2004 championship under dramatic circumstances during a tense title showdown at the Magny-Cours season finale.
Though Toseland trailed team-mate and title foe Regis Laconi on wins (2 wins to 7 heading into the final round), his better consistency meant the pair headed to France level on points.
However, while Laconi had home advantage, Toseland produced his best to take a win and a second place, out-scoring his rival’s pair of thirds. The title was Toseland’s as he made it back-to-back titles for British riders.
Toseland remained with Ducati for 2005, but endured a tough title defence (not helped by a huge pre-season testing high-side and ever more competitive four-cylinder machines) and didn’t finish on the podium until round four.
The highlight of his season was a home victory at Silverstone but he was unable to win again and finished the year fifth in championship with seven podiums. He and team-mate Laconi, however, were replaced by Troy Bayliss and Lorenzo Lanzi for 2006.
With Chris Vermeulen moving to MotoGP for 2006, Toseland gratefully accepted the Australian's Winston Ten Kate Honda ride, then rebuilt his reputation with a breakthrough season – in which he finished second only to dominant champion Troy Bayliss.
The Englishman took three wins from 12 podiums, opening up the chance of a MotoGP ride with d'Antin Ducati for 2007. Toseland reluctantly turned the ride down and committed his immediate future to WSBK, Ten Kate and most importantly Honda, with whom he eventually hoped to enter MotoGP - preferably as a double World Superbike champion in 2008.
Toseland’s second and final year at Ten Kate Honda began with 2-1 race finishes at the Qatar season opener and, while his rivals produced on/off rides during the first half of the season, Toseland finished off the podium just twice in 12 races to take a solid title lead.
Yamaha's Noriyuki Haga and star rookie Max Biaggi then fought back during the second half of the season - when Toseland suffered some accidents and misfortune - and the last round began with the top three riders - Toseland, Biaggi and Haga - covered by 33 points. Bayliss had been ruled out of the title fight by injury.
Toseland, desperate to leave WSBK as a double world champion, proved his nerve by winning his final Superpole appearance - but saw all his advantage undone after tangling with Lorenzo Lanzi at turn one of race one. In what was close to a worse case scenario, Toseland went spearing off track but - with his heart in his mouth - managed to keep his Honda on two wheels and rejoin at the back of the field.
Toseland went on to fight his way up to seventh, just one place behind an off-form Biaggi, while Haga took the win. The world title thus came down to the final race of the year, which Toseland began 17 points clear of Haga. The Yamaha star was on peerless form at Magny-Cours, duly winning race two for his second double of the season, but a safe sixth place for Toseland gave him the world crown by just two points.
From the 25 races, Toseland took 8 wins, 14 podiums and 2 pole positions. A long overdue first double victory was claimed in front of his home fans at Brand Hatch, where he also announced a move to MotoGP in 2008 with Tech 3 Yamaha.
Of the four 2008 MotoGP rookies, James Toseland was the only one not to have raced in 125 or 250GP, but the reigning double World Superbike champion made an instant impact by qualifying a (valve-spring) Tech 3 Yamaha second on the grid for his MotoGP debut at Qatar.
Toseland finished the race in sixth, a position he repeated five further times in 2008, with his highlight of the year a thrilling ride at the Australian Grand Prix, when he became one of the few riders to fight back and re-pass Valentino Rossi this season.
The low point of Toseland's season was surely a turn one accident at his home British GP, an event that marked the start of a difficult run of races, and Toseland finished the season eleventh in the championship with 105 points from the 18 races.
That meant an average of 5.8 points per race, which compares as follows with fellow World Superbike champions Troy Bayliss, Colin Edwards and Neil Hodgson during their first MotoGP season: Bayliss 8 points per race average (2003), Edwards 3.9 points per race average (2003) and Hodgson 2.4 points per race average (2004). Nicky Hayden, who arrived in MotoGP as the AMA Superbike champion, scored 8.1 points per race average in 2003.
With the knowledge gained from his debut season, Toseland was hoping to become a regular podium contender in 2009 after agreeing to stay on with the Tech 3 team.
However, he would court controversy pre-season when it was announced that Tech 3 was swapping Toseland and Edwards’s crew chiefs’ at the request of Toseland, prompting Edwards to launch a fierce war of words with his team-mate in the media.
Despite the upheaval Toseland was still unable to find a comfortable set-up on the M1 and, coupled to two substantial pre-season accidents, began the year on the back foot and couldn’t recover.
While Toseland scored in all but two races over the year, he failed to crack the top five once and was classified a lowly 14th overall – three places lower than his maiden campaign. By contrast, Edwards had the satisfaction of crushing his team-mate by ending the year fifth.
Though an earlier announcement that WSBK star and Yamaha protégé Ben Spies was set to stay in the production series for another season potentially threw Toseland the option of a third year in MotoGP, it was later confirmed that the American would progress to MotoGP with Tech 3 as Toseland’s replacement.
Leaving Toseland with no viable MotoGP options, he accepted an offer to stay with Yamaha, but return to World Superbikes alongside Cal Crutchlow for 2010.
A modest start to the year while Yamaha sorted out fundamental issues on the R1 prevented Toseland from getting onto the podium until round six at Valencia, but three more podiums from the next four races lifted him into outside title contention.
However, an accident during the second race at Monza would unsettle Toseland heading into the mid-season and he would struggle to repeat that form.
Furthermore, when it became clear that Toseland had been overlooked by Yamaha when scouting for the injured Valentino Rossi’s replacement in MotoGP, it was evident that the man had fallen out of favour with the manufacturer.
Indeed, with Crutchlow grabbing the headlines with his pole positions and wins, Toseland was shuffled into a supporting role over the second-half of the season and he failed to lift himself onto the podium again. Five retirements from the final six races would eventually push Toseland down to a disappointing ninth in the standings.
As expected, he was not retained by the manufacturer at the end of 2010, Toseland opening himself to offers with rival WSBK manufacturers. However, with preferred options Ducati withdrawing and Honda uncertain over whether to run one or two bikes, he was forced to look elsewhere.
Eventually Toseland would land at BMW, albeit with their new Italia operation, which is stepping up to the premier World Superbike stage having dominated the FIM Superstock 1000 series with Ayrton Badovini a year earlier.
Seen as an opportunity to rebuild his reputation on what remains satellite machinery, Toseland was certainly confident of at least matching Leon Haslam and Troy Corser on their factory-prepared machinery, but while the bike would prove capable, the man himself wouldn’t get the chance to find out.
Following a lacklustre debut at Phillip Island, a nasty accident during testing at Motorland Aragon between rounds one and two would leave Toseland nursing a broken wrist. He wouldn’t mount a competitive return until round five at Miller, and even then it would take until round nine at Silverstone for him to complete a whole race weekend.
However, despite his positive noises, the seriousness of the injury was becoming more apparent as the year wore on. Indeed, six months had passed since the initial accident and with a recovery sufficient to continue riding competitively seemingly a long way off, the prognosis certainly wasn’t encouraging.
In the end, instead of working towards a return date that may never come, Toseland – on doctors’ advice - subsequently decided to call time on his motorcycling career before the year was out.
A desperately disappointing conclusion to an otherwise impressive repertoire, Toseland at least had the dignity of retiring whilst still considered on the UK’s finest two-wheel competitors. Career Highlights: 2011:
World Superbike Championship (7 races), BMW Italia, 22nd 2010:
World Superbike Championship, Yamaha Sterilgarda, 9th 2009:
MotoGP World Championship, Tech 3 Yamaha, 14th 2008:
MotoGP World Championship, Tech 3 Yamaha, 11th 2007:
World Superbike Championship, Ten Kate Honda, Champion (8 wins) 2006:
World Superbike Championship, Ten Kate Honda, 2nd (3 wins) 2005:
World Superbike Championship, Xerox Ducati, 4th (1 win) 2004:
World Superbike Championship, Fila Ducati, Champion (3 wins) 2003:
World Superbike Championship, HM Plant Ducati, 3rd (1 win) 2002:
World Superbike Championship, HM Plant Ducati, 7th 2001:
World Superbike Championship, GSE Ducati, 13th 2000:
British Superbike Championship, Paul Bird Honda, 12th 1999:
World Supersport Championship, Castrol Honda, 11th 1998:
World Supersport Championship, Castrol Honda, 19th 1997:
British Supersport Championship, Honda, 3rd