This season sees the biggest attack of the British Superbike championship by the four Japanese manufacturers ever. All four manufacturers have chosen to go a different way to the V-Twin of Ducati by using an inline four-cylinder engine. Should prove to be an interesting battle as Adam Arnold investigates.

Historically the four cylinder is thought to have more power but be difficult to handle out of the corners. Ducati's past domination has been attributed to the lazy power delivery allowing more aggressive throttle action out of the corners. Its narrow engine layout gives it a smaller silhouette so it doesn't lose out too much down the straights, as its air resistance is less than the wide four cylinder bikes.

This year however all four Japanese manufacturers have chosen to enter their factory backed 1000cc four cylinder machines to stop Ducati and the V-Twin's dominance.

HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR

Honda's new flagship model, the 1000cc blade is entering its first year of racing. The HM plant machines are the only factory backed up Blades in the world, not even world super bikes has this equipment. Honda are using the BSB to develop their Suzuka 8 hour race bikes due to them being able to use Michelin tyres, rather than the control tyres found in WSB. Therefore, these machines will be very special and probably over 200 bhp like the Suzuki boys. Honda will not want to lose out to Ducati again, especially with a new model, therefore we can expect these machines to be ultra fast and have every new piece of kit the boys back in Japan can muster.

HM Plant's riders complements Honda's will to win with two distinctively different riders. First up is the infinitely experienced Michel Rutter, a BSB veteran with an infinite knowledge of British tracks. After an unfortunate last season in BSB due to team politics and poor reliability, Rutter is hungry to build upon his third place finish of last year. With Honda Japan throwing performance-enhancing parts hand over fist in this direction, he has to be bookies favourite as long as the new Honda proves to be reliable.

Joining Rutter from Japan is new boy Ryuichi Kiyonari. First place in Japan's prestigious All Japan 600 Supersport championship in 2002 on a Honda CBR600, has earnt him a place at Honda's round table. After the unfortunate death of Daijiro Kato in MotoGP last year, Kiyonari was given a place on Kato's RCV211V. The 21-year-old was certainly thrown in at the deep end, but was still able to impress by riding the RCV like it was a speedway bike. His great efforts have been rewarded, and now has the machinery that could take him all the way to the podium. And with Rutter acting as an encyclopaedic source of track know how for the new comer, things are sure to go this young man's way.

Rizla Suzuki GSXR1000

Crescent, who prepare and run these bikes, have been tuning Suzukis for, well, ever. What they don't know about the GSXR1000 could be written on the side of a stamp. This season's new GSXR is undoubtedly the fastest yet.

Out of the crate it's faster, lighter and more nimble than any other. On track, these all-new GSXRs are reported to have 207 ponies at the back wheel, that's MotoGP territory. And sure enough at a recent test in Valencia, Reynolds lapped to within 2.6 seconds of the fastest MotoGP machine, reaching a top speed of nearly 190mph. Unlike the Honda's of the HM boys, these machines are tried and tested and faster than ever with lots of past information on set-up for the riders to fall back on.

John Reynolds, who came second last season for the Rizla team, goes forth into this season with the best chances of taking the championship. His experience of both the bike and the tracks is unrivalled and as long as the Suzuki is up to the job, which I'm sure it is, should be the favourite for the top step at the bookies.

Joining Reynolds from last season is the unlucky Yukio Kagayama. The talented Japanese rider only got back on a bike a month ago after embedding his groin in a Rizla Suzuki petrol tank last season and fracturing his pelvis. Already up to speed, and setting a personal best on a local track in Japan a few weeks ago, this is one tough rider. After his accident at Cadwell Park last season, doctors feared for his life, but this plucky customer has already wowed the motorcycle world by not only returning to the sport but being super fast as well. This man is fired up and will be hard to beat.

Hawk Kawasaki ZX-10R

Last season the Hawk Kawasaki boys put on a sterling show with the old ZX-750RR. Even though the old 750 was dated, over weight and under powered, Glen Richards still managed to obtain an overall fourth place in the championship. The new ZX-10R is an all-new bike from Kawasaki; therefore its reliability remains unproven. However, based on last year's show from the riders on the 750's, this year they may have less of a hard time competing at the front with the new 1000cc four-cylinder bike.

Glen Richards and Scott Smart stay with the team from last year, and as they both proved in the previous season they have what it takes to race with the big shots, even on a much slower bike. Already Scott Smart has equalled the lap record set by Michel Rutter at a pre season test at Silverstone on the new ZX-10's first dry test.

This season we can expect to see the green Kawasaki's up there at the front as the two extremely talented riders get more cc's to fight with in the BHP war.

Virgin Mobile Samsung Yamaha R1

Another new model lining up on the grid this year is the up-rated Yamaha R1. Like Rizla, HM and Hawk, these machines are also factory bikes and up to date. This season the Virgin Yamaha bikes make up nearly 20% of the championship field, one sure way to get your sponsors noticed. Their rider line up includes two experienced BSB championship contenders and the new boy Tommy Hill. Hill was the winner of the R6 cup last season and part of the prize was a BSB ride on the R1. Tommy has a lot to learn this year, as it is his first outing on such a powerful machine. But the youngster is in very capable hands with Steve Plater and Gary Mason filling the other two rides.

Last season Plater rode the Honda SP-2 to two victories, and a final sixth position in the championship amongst the great stress of having a bike that did not want to handle. Plater's win it or bin it approach was the only way to keep the Honda at the front. Now in the more relaxed atmosphere of the Yamaha camp, with a bike that seems to be working for him during testing, we should hope to see Plater at the front where he has proved he can run on lesser machines.

Mason, who stays with the team from last year, has a great deal to prove. After the Sudden and tragic death of his team mate and mentor, Steve Hislop, in a helicopter accident, Mason dug deep and stuck his R1 on the front row at the very next round. This experience seemed to fire him up for the rest of the season. That experience would have hopefully taught him that he could be at the front, if he wants to. Lets hope that he is still on the boil like he was at the end of last season.

The first race of the BSB championship is this Sunday, 28th March. It can be seen live in the UK on SkySports or at a later date on BBC terrestriall. Tune in to see if the four cylinders can finally topple the Ducatis.



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