By Christian Tiburtius

One of the most hotly anticipated signings of the 2013 MCE British Superbike season is the return of Ryuichi Kiyonari, re-joining the now Samsung-backed Honda team that he won his three titles for.

Kiyonari remains the all-time record holder for BSB wins, but - having spent 2012 racing in Asia - is now just two victories clear of reigning champion Shane Byrne.

Kiyonari and former team-mate Byrne both have the chance to become the undisputed BSB king this season, being tied on three BSB titles alongside past master Niall Mackenzie. caught up with 30-year-old Kiyo - who has also raced in MotoGP and won races in WSBK - at team principal Havier Beltran's office...
How would your friends or family describe your character?

Havier Beltran:
Having known him for a long time and knowing how he is, perhaps I can interject here? He's a very quiet, humble person. He's someone who doesn't like the limelight and is comfortable to be in the background. When we go to the dealerships, Kiyo is quite happy mingling and talking with people at their own level and people who have come to meet him are often impressed or overwhelmed by that. He treats all people the same.

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I agree!
Do you enjoy doing interviews and public appearances?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I do enjoy events and interviews, but I don't think I am good at giving interviews. I think I'm naturally shy with people and even in Japan it's the same. I tend not to talk so much there either. I prefer to just sit on my bike and go riding. I think all racers feel that way.
How did you start riding motorbikes, was your family happy that you went motorbike racing?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I was maybe 5 or 6 years old and I started on mini motos and it was my father who wanted me to go racing, but honestly I didn't want to. I wanted to stay home playing football or baseball, I just wanted to hang out with my friends. Really until I was perhaps 18 years old I could take or leave the racing. I thought the riding was fun, but not the racing and couldn't really push.

But at the end of 2001 my attitude changed and I really started to want to win, it didn't matter if I wanted to race or not the most important thing was that I wanted to win, and I also didn't want to lose. That helped to give me the confidence to start pushing and ride harder.

At the time I didn't really have any biking heroes, basically any world champion was who I looked up to. But it was the 500cc GP bikes I really liked.

But in the end I'm happy because I'm here in BSB.
If your son said he wanted to be a Motorbike racer, what would you say?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I'd give him the chance, I wouldn't be happy because I would always be worried, but if they wanted to ride I would support them.
When you were in WSBK you were fast sometimes, but at other tracks the speed wasn't there, why was that?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
In 2008 and 2009 it was a brand new bike and we needed to do a lot of work to develop it. But I felt that I didn't communicate with the team enough and well enough to get this done.

I felt I was talking to them but it was as if we had a communication problem. When I am having motivation problems, I find communication very difficult and can't speak so much, that's a problem of mine.

I'm still good friends with the Ten Kate team and mechanics and talk with them socially. Great team and great bike, but when it came to racing we needed more technical communication.
Which aspect of a motorbike's set-up gives you confidence?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I like a bike which is not too aggressive and feels safe and easy to ride. I like it predictable, balanced with nothing too sharp. I'm not a front end or back end rider, it has to be balanced.
When you say a safe bike, is it because to think about the danger?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I am always thinking about the danger, but when the race starts I never think about it. That's why I am doing training to help my concentration. I don't want to get injured.
For a rider of your standard your results in 2011 were not good, why was that?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I think the team was no good!

Sound of Havier Beltran laughing in the background.

No, no, in 2011 the bike was good because Shakey was doing well on it and was winning many races. I think it was my problem. For me how I feel is very important for my results, this is true of all riders but with me it is probably more important

I am trying to enjoy my riding more because in 2011 I started not enjoying my racing. My heart didn't feel right. If you win some races things start to get better, but if I get bad results, my motivation suffers, and you need motivation. I think enjoyment goes with motivation and that is the direction I am going in for this year. Enjoyment is the key.

It finished very badly at the end of 2011, there was a really bad feeling and I was having difficulty sleeping. November and December was a difficult time for me. After the last race at Brands I was continually asking myself why and I was thinking of giving up racing. I was thinking of retiring.

But I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to enjoy the feeling of riding and racing motorbikes again and that in combination with training that would help.

I don't want to go back there, I want to go forwards
Did you enjoy 2012 in Asian SuperSports?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
Yes I did, I won the championship. But I don't really like the 600, I like the 1000s. But I did enjoy it despite the fact that it was a new team, bike and championship.

I looked forward to every race weekend. It's no holiday, the championship is quite hard, but the championship only has six rounds and between races you have a month. I always spent this time training or motocross riding just to keep the momentum going. I never felt tired and kept my concentration going by training.

But the 600s feel more like a bike to start racing on.
How do you feel going into the 2013 BSB season, in comparison to 4 or 5 years ago?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I feel older! Especially talking to Alex [Lowes team-mate], he makes me feel very old! But I feel the same as my first BSB championship in 2004, it still feels like a new challenge.

For sure I don't feel the same as 2011, I'm feeling far happier.
You are one of the most anticipated signings for 2013, did you telephone Honda, or did they telephone you?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I telephoned Honda, but they got back to me and we were able to start discussions. Even though things didn't end well in 2011, I was still good friends with Havier and Honda UK and we were always in contact. I also rode the world endurance in Qatar for Honda and talked to Havier at the Suzuka 8 hour race, and here I am.
How about your crew?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I requested Adrian [Gorst] to be my chief mechanic. Some of my crew are new, but most are friends from before. I feel comfortable with the crew.
How is it riding the new Evo-spec BSB bikes?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I think the new spec machines are good for the budget and getting new teams on to the grid, but I have to say I prefer the old Superbike with more power and electronics. But everybody has the same rules so I'm not worried.
If you had the choice, would you keep the new Showdown format or go back to the traditional points tally?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I never really think about the Showdown and am happy to race whatever the rules, but I won in 2010 so prefer the traditional points count.
We heard that you sometimes fall asleep in the pits during a race weekend, is that true?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
Yes I do, I always like sleeping, it's my hobby, that and eating fish and chips!
How are you getting on with team-mate Alex Lowes?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I got to know his racing by watching last season's BSB on YouTube.

He's a great rider in general, but in 2012 he was particularly fast and strong. He rides hard and pushes hard. The first time we rode together was at the recent Cadwell test. We also talked a lot and I think he has a great personality.

He's always bright, happy and smiling. He's a team-mate, but also a good rival. He was faster than me at Cadwell, but I'm working to beat him. We have still only done two days testing and there's plenty of time.

Because I knew the bike, team and track, I came away from Cadwell feeling more confident

Havier Beltran:
Yes, we had a useful test in glorious sunshine at Cadwell on Tuesday. There was a hard frost overnight so we were unable to get straight out on track as the surface was too cold to get any benefit and even in the sunshine, some parts of the track were up to 14 or 15 degrees whereas around the hairpin it was only 4 or 5 degrees until 11 o'clock. But we got some great track time and it was very beneficial and given that Cadwell was surrounded by thick fog, we were very lucky.
What kind of result in the first round at Brands Hatch would satisfy you?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
A podium and fighting with the top group, I really want to stay with the top group.
Do you prefer leading from the front or fighting in the pack?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I like leading because I can move properly from side to side. I like to have a distance behind me as a buffer, but if I can win the race I'll take it either way. But I don't want to fight anybody, I'm a peaceful person.
Do you have any plans for the future?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I think I would like to have more children!

No, but in racing I would be interested in moving to any world championship or perhaps want do something other than riding. But to do anything I'm going to have to push hard this season first.
Would you ride the TT?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
No I couldn't, it's just too scary.
Do you see your family during the season?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
This year, my family is staying in Japan and I will be able to fly out to see them, but not often. In general I am very happy in England and feel at home. England is my second home.
As a Honda man, what would you say if Ducati phoned you?

Havier Beltran in the background: "I'm still in the office, you know!"

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
No way! I like Honda
What do you think about the leg dangling under braking riding style, do you ever do that?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
I sometimes do it, but only to copy other riders and look good. But can't do the right leg anyway because of the rear brake. But honestly I can't understand why, maybe there's some reason but I don't know why.
Some riders have a ritual they do before a race due to superstition; do you have anything like this?

Ryuichi Kiyonari:
Yes, I never have a beer before a race! But after the race...
Thanks a lot Kiyo, and good luck.