More than 250 people crammed into the Audi Forum near Piccadilly, London for the launch of the 2007 Bennetts British Superbike championship this morning (Wednesday, April 4, 2007).
The championship kicks off at Brands Hatch on Bank Holiday Monday and defending champion Ryuichi Kiyonari said: “I’m looking forward to it. We had our final test at Knockhill last week and the bike feels very good.
“We found our best settings in the Snetterton test two weeks ago but Knockhill gave us a last chance to try some fuelling changes and different tyre options.
“My 2007 HM Plant Honda is not that different to last year but I’m confident it is still good enough for me to try and retain the title. The engine is stronger than ever and we proved that at Snetterton where I had the fastest bike on the track!”
Jonathan Rea has outpaced his more experienced team-mate in testing, but said: “I’ve had a really easy transition to the HM Plant team, taking my crew from last year’s Red Bull Honda into the factory team.
“Testing has gone well but I’m not naive enough to think it’s going to be easy in BSB this year. Last year I was consistent but consistent and not wining. I need to change that this year. I want to win races as well as being consistent.”
Last year both Airwaves Ducati riders, Leon Haslam and Gregorio Lavilla were title contenders right up to the final round. Haslam finished runner-up last year.
He said: “Hopefully we can go one better this year. I had a fantastic 2006, even though I didn’t start well when I crashed at Brands in the first race.
Lavilla added: “I was angry with the way last year went – not just the last race but with some problems earlier in the year. I had a big lead in the championship then saw it disappear.
“I was not happy but that’s how racing goes. This year’s a big challenge for us but if I don’t do at least as good as I’ve done in the past two season’s I’ll be disappointed.”
Rizla Suzuki hope to bounce back from a disappointing 2006 and have new signings Chris Walker and Cal Crutchlow.
Walker said: “Coming back to BSB is special for me but coming back to Rizla Suzuki is even more special. There’s some tracks I’ve not seen for seven years but Brands, thankfully is not one of them and we’re aiming to put on a good show.”
British Supersport Champion Crutchlow added: “This is going to be a hard year for me – a steep learning curve but I’m confident we can get some good results. I just need to attack the season with the same attitude as last year but I’m so excited about the season ahead it’s unbelievable. It’s always been my dream to be in BSB.”
Former Rizla Suzki rider Shane Byrne has switched to Paul Bird’s Stobart Honda team.
He said: “Hopefully I’ll have a better season than last year. It was so frustrating after two years of wobbling around the back at MotoGP to come to BSB and still struggle.
But I’m back with Birdy this year and the bike has suited me from day one. Testing’s worked out real good and we’ve barely had to change anything on the bike.”
This year’s championship is stronger than ever. And BSB Series Director Stuart Higgs said: “We thought we couldn’t better the 2006 season but it’s actually moved to the next level.
“We’ve got Chris Walker back. There’s the promotion of young guys from supersport to superbike. Plus we’ve the warriors of old.
“We have around 250 riders in the paddock on BSB weekend. Thirty of them are BSB entries but the rest are in the support classes, which continue to show growth.
“We have eight manufacturers across all the classes including KTM in the new one-make series with 990cc Super Dukes, MV in superstock and Triumph in supersport, plus Ducati and the four Japanese manufacturers. It shows the how strong the link is between racing and the motorcycle industry.
“The reason for the continued success of the series is that we have a formula of entertainment and accessibility. The fans have access to the athletes like no other sport. On a commercial front the series goes front strength-to-strength.
“The fact we’ve retained title sponsor Bennett’s for three years and Think, the Government road safety campaign for a fourth year and have Audi backing for 12 consecutive years. Now we can announce that Maxxis are backing the title sponsor of this year’s British Supersport Championship.”