Three time British superbike champion Ryuichi Kiyonari is set to make a surprise return to the series this weekend when he rejoins Honda Racing as a replacement for the injured Dan Linfoot at Oulton Park.
The Japanese ace, known to fans as ‘Kiyo’ came to the championship from MotoGP and won the series in 2006 and 2007 for the official Honda squad, before moving to world superbike for two seasons. Despite winning three races (all in the UK) it was a relatively unsuccessful period and he returned to the British series in 2010, duly taking a third title.
Following a disappointing defence in 2011, Kiyonari returned home to compete in the Asia road racing championship for a season, returning to Britain in 2013 for a final disappointing season with Honda.
Surprisingly, Kiyonari left Honda and joined the Buildbase BMW squad in 2014. After a poor start to the season, the Japanese rider gelled with the S1000RR and was set for a title showdown with Shane Byrne when he crashed and broke his collarbone in practice for the last round of the season.
That was to be the last time that Kiyonari would be a force in the British championships. In 2015 he stayed with Buildbase BMW but failed to stand on the podium all year and, in 2016, he spent half a season on the Halsall Suzuki – being sacked mid-season after months of lacklustre results that culminated in a 19th and 22nd place at Brands Hatch.
Despite this ignominious end to his British championship career, Kiyo has remained a strong competitor in Asia and is an important part of Honda’s Suzuka 8-hour set-up, an event he has won four-times.
With Linfoot out with a neck injury, the Louth based Honda Racing has recalled its prodigal son to help speed up the development of the latest generation Fireblade. Team boss Havier Beltran feels that this experience can be beneficial to the team, saying: “It’s great to have Kiyo back with us for Oulton Park and I can’t think of anyone better suited to fill in for Dan. Kiyo has a lot of history with Honda and this team, and it’s good that he knows most of the guys so it won’t take him long to get settled back in. He’s a very talented rider and Honda has always had an extremely high regard of his skills as a racer, and his long-term experience with the Fireblade will surely help the team.”
Kiyonari himself is setting no targets for the weekend but is happy to be back in Britain, saying: “I am sorry to hear about Dan, and first of all I wish him a speedy recovery. I am happy to fill for him at Oulton Park with the team I have been racing with for a long time. British superbike is a like a home to me and I am thrilled to be back racing with the boys again. I have been on the Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR since last season and with the team we know each other well. I will do my best to finish high up in the races.”
Practice for the third round of the British superbike championship starts this Saturday (May 5) with the races on Bank Holiday Monday.
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