John Hopkins defends a slender three points advantage over Tommy Hill as they power into the penultimate Showdown round in the battle for the MCE Insurance British Superbike crown at Silverstone this weekend.
The two critical races at the Northamptonshire circuit will be vital for the six Title Fighters ahead of the final three races at Brands Hatch as the pressure mounts to become the 2011 champion.
Samsung Crescent Suzuki's Hopkins took the lead in the Showdown with a double win at Donington Park despite suffering intense pain from finger injuries and believes he will be back to full fitness for these crucial races. He has undergone further surgery back home in California between races to stabilise the finger crushed in a crash while competing as a wild-card rider in the Brno round of MotoGP.
Hopkins said: "I could feel straightaway that the finger was much stronger and it has improved every day since. I am not very confident that I will be able to ride at near-enough 100% at Silverstone." The American has already raced at Silverstone, gaining useful data and an insight into the circuit during the recent World Superbike meeting for which he gained the pole position start.
Swan Yamaha's Tommy Hill is just three points adrift of his American rival ahead of this weekend and admits he is not too concerned that Hopkins has already raced this season at Silverstone and prefers to concentrate on his own performances.
"We know that John will be strong there, but so will we," said Hill. "For me every race is important. I don't think too much about the championship, rather trying to enjoy each race by race. I had two good results at Donington in the Showdown opener but unfortunately for me John won both of them to leave me three points down. Some say at this point it is better to be second and chasing the leader down as that puts the pressure on him. The boys have been working hard on my bike. These are races everyone wants to win and hopefully we can and then crack on for the final."
Pushing them hard in a determined effort to close the 25 points deficit will be HM Plant Honda's former double champion Shane 'Shakey' Byrne. He arrives at Silverstone determined to return to the podium to close the advantage in the standings after a tangle with Michael Laverty during the second race of the Showdown at Donington Park saw him lose ground. That incident also left Swan Yamaha's Laverty now with an uphill task among the Title Fighters, a further 11 points down on Byrne and only two clear of Relentless Suzuki's Josh Brookes while the reigning champion Ryuichi Kiyonari is sixth overall and 50 points down on Hopkins.
Laverty though believes he now has nothing to lose: "I am looking forward to Silverstone, obviously what happened at Donington Park wasn't what we needed but it is just one of those things and we can't dwell on it. I am approaching Silverstone the same way I did for Donington Park and now I think there is less pressure on me as I lost points at the last round. If anything I need to be less cautious as I just need to go for it as I don't have an advantage to defend. I have to win every race and the pressure is on the leading three as they now have more to lose. I feel relaxed going to Silverstone; we have proved we have the pace so I will be fighting all the way for Swan Yamaha."
Whilst the Title Fighters have the championship crown in their sights there will be a pack of other riders keen to prove a point as they aim for seventh place in the final standings, and with it the Riders' Cup. Jon Kirkham riding the second Samsung Crescent Suzuki will be strong following his podium finish at Donington Park as will the Rapid Solicitors Bathams Ducati duo of Martin Jessopp and Michael Rutter, who is bidding for a return after suffering broken ribs from a crash at Cadwell Park.
In the Mirror.co.uk BSB-EVO class Glen Richards expects to take another step towards securing that title though he will be hard pressed in the races to head off his WFR Honda team-mate Graeme Gowland who took the double at Donington Park.
MCE INSURANCE BRITISH SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS GOING INTO SILVERSTONE1 John Hopkins (Samsung Crescent Racing Suzuki) 5682 Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha) 5653 Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda) 5434 Michael Laverty (Swan Yamaha) 5325 Josh Brookes (Relentless Suzuki by TAS) 5306 Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda) 518