With three months to go, the battle lines are already being drawn up as the top manufacturers, their teams and riders plan title winning campaigns in the British Superbike Championship.

Already four of the world's leading manufacturers have announced their plans to race in the demanding series that will this year be extended to 26 races at 13 key events.

Ducati, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha will all be on the starting grid for the first round of the 2001 championship at Donington Park on April 1.

Former champions John Reynolds and Steve Hislop, together with top riders including Sean Emmett, James Haydon, Steve Plater, John Crawford and Jamie Robinson have been contracted to ride in what is generally acclaimed as the toughest domestic series of all.

Underlining that statement is the fact that last year British 'wild-card' riders won three of the six World Championship races stages in Britain.

Among those riders to embarrass the world series regulars was Reynolds, who will again be spearheading the Reve Red Bull Ducati's British Championship bid. The Nottingham rider, who won the British crown in 1992, proved the most consistent rider in the series last year, winning four times as he finished every race in the top five, but still had to settle for third place in the rankings.

"That was very disappointing, but it has made me all the more determined for the new season - I know what I want, and that is to win races, and the title," said Reynolds, who will have Emmett as his teammate next season.

Emmett himself, is a rider with experience in both World Superbikes and Grand Prix, returns to the team after a year with Honda and thinks that riding alongside Reynolds will be a big influence in his title bid, "John is such a fearsome competitor that he will bring the best out in me and show that I am on the race winning pace again."

Both Ducati riders will have to keep a watchful eye on Haydon, fourth in the overall rankings last season and a proven race winner. He has switched from Red Bull to head the Virgin Mobile Yamaha challenge.

Haydon intends to seize the opportunity, as he explained, "To be joining the most successful team ever in the championship's history is a fantastic deal for me. It will help me take my riding to an even higher level. I will need to find the consistency and build on my experiences from last year to ensure that we as a team are positioned to take the title."

"The British Championship will continue to be the hardest fought there is - there are many exciting and capable riders confirmed already and the title will be contested between at least six of the top riders," added Haydon.

Joining Haydon in Rob McElnea's team will be Jamie Robinson, a determined rider who was narrowly beaten in the race for the British 250ccc crown two years ago, and who last year rode in the 250cc World Championship with QUB Team Optimum.

Lincolnshire rider Plater looks likely to be among the title-chasers - last year he grew in stature and became a regular at the sharp end of the grid, and has chosen to remain with Kawasaki, a decision he believes will see him in with a shot of the title.

"I am up and ready for the challenge. I Learned a lot last year and now I will be giving it everything and going for the title. The bike was great at the end of last season and if we can build even further, then we will be in contention, not just for winning races, but also the title."

The team will shortly be announcing who will be riding as Plater's teammate next year.

Crawford, who twice won the British Supersport title for Suzuki, before graduating last season onto their Superbike, remains with the Crescent Racing team, running under the banner of 'GSX-R Factory Squad.'

The Glaswegian went from strength to strength last year and if he continues to build on that he will surely be a leading contender. He, and the team, will also be able to draw on the vast experience of former triple British Superbike Champion Niall Mackenzie who ha offered his services to help develop and test the bike.

Adding further spice to the entry is the eleven times Isle of Man TT race winner Hislop, riding the 'Monstermob Ducati.' The hard charging Scot won the crown previously in 1995 aboard a Ducati and is in positive mood having joined the team run by Paul Bird Motorsport. "I'm delighted to have secured a competitive ride and believe that I have a great chance of winning the title again."

Further entries are being confirmed currently, with the final date for registration of riders not until mid-February.

Complementing the line-up of around ten works riders will be a strong entry for the Privateers Cup, a category that is effectively a 'championship within a championship' for teams and riders operating independently of manufacturer involvement.

The 2001 British Superbike Championship begins with a double race at Donington Park, in Leicestershire, on Sunday April 1.



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