Scottish bike fans will turn their backs on the World Cup this weekend and head for Knockhill as the British Superbike Championship returns to the Fife circuit on the 6th, 7th & 8th of July. If you're already fed up hearing about how it's coming home, why not switch off the TV and head to the home of Scottish motorsport?
BSB, what's that then?
The BSB Championship is run over twelve rounds at nine different tracks, but only makes the trip north of the border once a year. With the circuit newly re-surfaced, the action is sure to be as hot as the weather, with the best riders in the UK scrapping it out round the tight 1.3 mile track just north of Dunfermline.
Knockhill is the second shortest track in the series, but it makes for some of the best racing with fast flowing corners, changes of elevation and a tight hairpin that's just perfect for that last lap lunge. There's great spectator access all round the outside of the circuit and a hill top vantage point that gives a perfect view of almost the entire track, as well as covered enclosures at the three main spectator areas. Expect to see the fastest riders completing a lap of the track in less than 50 seconds!
There's action on track all weekend, including 16 races across six different classes, starting with practice sessions all day Friday (6th). Saturday is qualifying day, where the riders look for the perfect lap time to decide their positions on the starting grid. The main event takes place on Sunday, with morning warm up sessions before the first race gets underway at 10.40.
The star attraction is the two British Superbike championship races, each run over 30 laps of the track, but there are bikes of all shapes & sizes including 600cc, 1000cc and even side car outfits. The Ducati Tri-Options Cup sees a full grid of riders on identical bikes, where it's all down to talent and bravery. The stars of the future also get their own series - the British Motostar Championship.
So, what is a Superbike?
It's a tag that often gets attached to any high performance motorcycle, but in the racing world, a Superbike is a production derived 1000cc race bike. In layman's terms, that means the bikes you see on track are the same as the bikes you will see in your local dealers showroom. With a few modifications!
To begin with, the bike must be homologated, which means the manufacturer must built a defined number of bikes (usually 1,000 units) for the road before that model qualifies to enter the Superbike class. Teams can then strip all the unnecessary extras, such as lights, indicators, mirrors etc from the bike and carry out certain engine, chassis, suspension and electronic modifications. The rules on what mods can be done are tightly controlled by the technical regulations in order to keep the racing fair and the cost of racing under control. Importantly, the bike must maintain the same general appearance as it's road going counterpart.
But don't be fooled into thinking that a Superbike isn't a proper race bike. Although most teams, understandably, won't give away too many details, a BSB spec Superbike can do 0-60 in less than 3 seconds and is capable of over 200mph.
That kind of performance doesn't come cheap. Take the bike that currently leads both the British and World Superbike Championships - the Kawasaki ZX-10R. You can walk into your local Kawasaki dealership, ride out on a shiny new green machine, and the salesman will relieve of approximately 14 grand of your hard earned cash. For about the same price of a decent family car you'll get something that weighs just over 200kg, produces about 150bhp and will earn you 12 points on your licence quicker than you can change your underwear. You can then get your socket set out, start bolting in some extra power and head off racing.
But if you want to be spraying champagne and receiving a shiny trophy from a beautiful woman come Sunday afternoon, you'll need something that weighs less than 140kg and produces upwards of 190bhp. And a very understanding bank manager. Don't expect much change from £100,000 to build a bike that's competitive at the sharp end of a BSB grid.
The National Superstock class comprises of 1000cc, with even tighter restrictions, and makes for some of the closest and most exciting racing you will ever see. For the smaller 600cc bikes there are SuperSport and Junior Superstock classes, all of which run using homologation rules.
But I don't know any of the riders
Most of the bike manufacturers have teams in BSB, including Triumph, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW and Ducati, so whether you like your machinery in British, Japanese, German or Italian flavour, you're sorted.
As riders go, the biggest name in the BSB paddock is reigning champion Shayne Byrne - with 85 race wins and 6 BSB titles to his name, Shakey is the Daddy. Unfortunately, he won't be racing at Knockhill as he is recovering from serious neck & spine injuries after crashing Ducati in a testing session in June.
The current championship leader is Leon Haslam, son of famous 70s & 80s racer Ron Haslam. Kawasaki rider Leon was runner up in the series last year, and with Shakey missing, he'll be looking to extend his lead. Having previously ridden at World Championship level in various classes, he is one of the most experienced riders on the grid, but had to sit out the Scottish round last year after crashing in the very first session of the weekend.
Then there's the man who is officially the Fastest Road Racer in the World. At the Isle of Man TT in June, Peter Hickman set a new record, lapping the 37.73 mile circuit in an incredible 17 minutes & 34 seconds - an average speed of 135.452. Knockhill will feel like a Tesco car park compared to the TT course, but Hicky is full of confidence. Expect him to be amongst the leaders on race day.
James Ellison (Yamaha) is another rider with plenty of laps under his leathers. Competing in his last season of BSB, before heading off to the US to enjoy the Texas life with his family, he will looking to say farewell in style.
As well as the experienced riders, there's plenty of young talent on show too. Kawasaki's Jake Dixon won both races at Knockhill last year - his first ever wins in the BSB class - so he will be looking forward to coming back to Fife.
Another young rider who's forced his way into the championship spotlight this season is Suzuki's Bradley Ray. Instantly recognisable in the paddock with his mass of curly hair, black rimmed specs and ear to ear grin, he is already one of the fans favourites. As well as BSB, he's also been picked to race for Suzuki at the Suzuka 8 hour race in Japan at the end of the month - a sure sign his talent has been recognised at the highest level and a potential stepping stone into the World Championship in the near future.
If you're looking to get behind the Scottish riders, there are a few to choose from across a number of classes. In Superbike, you have Taylor Mackenzie (Yamaha) and his brother Tarran (Ducati) - sons of former GP rider and BSB champ Niall.
In the National Superstock class, you can cheer on East Kilbride rider Matt Paulo and Paul McLung from Haddington. Lewis Rollo, also from Haddington lines up in the Ducati Tri-Options Cup and there's a future superstar in the making in the shape of Jack Hart in the Motostar Championship. All six are regulars at Knockhill, and always go well round their local track.
For ticket info, and all the details of the weekend programme, see the BSB and Knockhill websites.