The British Superbike championship, arguably the toughest domestic Superbike series in the world, blasts back into action this weekend with the 2004 season opener at Silverstone, where a talent stacked and factory supported field will take their first steps towards inheriting Shane Byrne's crown.

Heading the entry is pre-season favourite - and twice champion - John Reynolds who remains with Rizla Suzuki for a third year. The Nottingham based rider is brimming with confidence and looking to build on the race victories he has achieved in the past two years and end Ducatis recent title run.

"We know that we have the best evolution of the Suzuki GSX-R1000 ever to be ridden on a race-track and that is very encouraging - testing has been very worth-while and now I can hardly wait to get back on track and stuck into racing," said JR.

Reynolds will be under severe pressure from Sean Emmett, a former team-mate, who has linked up with the MonsterMob Ducati team. The 'nearly man', in terms of winning the crown, undoubtedly sees this season as his best opportunity yet to finally claim the crown - and underlined that determination by setting the pace in testing at Silverstone.

Steve Plater is back with the Virgin Mobile Samsung Team for a second term, having ridden last year for Honda, and now the Lincolnshire rider is looking to build on his four race winning pedigree. "The new R1 machine is very exciting - testing has gone well and I believe we can beat anyone. I am quite confident that we can get onto the podium regularly and score points consistently."

Scott Smart and Aussie Glen Richards quickly dialled into Hawk Kawasaki's all-new ZX-10Rs during testing at Silverstone and reckon they will be well on the pace for the opener, in which they face the challenge of Honda's new Fireblades, backed by HM Plant and in the hands of Michael Rutter and series newcomer Ryuichi Kiyonari.

Rutter is gunning for the crown, having built a wealth of winning experience, and has turned on the speed and style in testing, but, he accepts his new Japanese team-mate poses a real threat. Kiyonari deputised in MotoGP last season for Honda and is certainly one to watch - as is his compatriot Yukio Kagayama.

The Rizla Suzuki rider established himself as a firm favourite with the British fans last season with his brilliant riding that brought him race victories and on the title chase before he was sidelined by critical injuries in a horror crash at Cadwell Park - Kagayama claims to be fully recovered from that and looking to set the record straight.

It adds to the strength of the series with its factory backed teams from each of the world's leading manufacturers who between them account for half of the expected 30 strong grid - the remaining riders, among them former British 125cc Champion Chris Martin, James Buckingham and Gordon Blackley will be battling for honours in the race within a race, the Superbike Cup, which gives the privateer entries a major goal to achieve.

Around the two Superbike races, there is a host of top championship action. Karl Harris will be bidding for opening round glory as he defends the second of his two British Supersport titles, then there is National Superstock action, British 125GP, and the first round of the Virgin Mobile Yamaha R6 with its array of raw, upcoming talent racing on equal machinery. They have a target. Last season's R6 Cup winner Tommy Hill is riding for the factory Yamaha team in the main Superbike Championship.

All part of the plan to develop British riders to go forwards onto the World stage, just as last year's Superbike Champion Byrne has done, graduating to MotoGP for the works Aprilia team and in doing so joining the ranks of former British champions Troy Bayliss and Neil Hodgson in the elite series.



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