John Reynolds has a race to win just to make the starting grid for the opening action in this year's Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch on Easter Monday - the defending title holder is battling against the odds to be racing his Rizla Suzuki just 38 days on from breaking his right leg in testing.
Reynolds has been having intensive laser and hyperbaric treatment, also having a special protective boot made, in his efforts to make the double race opener. "I have a title defend and am determined to be out there," he said as he prepared for a secret test which will decide his fitness prior to the start of first qualifying at the Kent venue.
Should Reynolds be ruled out of the action, the team have lined up the experienced Spanish rider Gregorio Lavilla to deputise and last week he showed well in testing on the short Indy circuit, recording the third fastest time, marginally faster than Scott Smart who has put in highly competitive performances on the all-new Suzuki since his close season switch from Hawk Kawasaki to the Rizla team.
"The engine is phenomenal, but we still have work to do - there is so much more to come out of this bike," smiled Smart as plans for maiden title glory, something that will not come easy for anyone in this year's packed 35 strong entry that features factory backed teams from five of the world's leading manufacturers.
Honda riders Ryuichi Kiyonari and Michael Rutter will make life difficult for their rivals - the HM Plant Fireblade duo have sent the lap records tumbling during pre-season testing and are planning a dominant campaign. "Things are going really well, but it will be a tough season with so many good riders out there," admitted Rutter who finished last season as runner-up to Reynolds.
He is aiming to go one better, but has to overcome the revitalised threat of Sean Emmett, especially in the opening action. The Virgin Mobile Samsung Yamaha rider reckons this is his favourite circuit: "I've been very successful there over the years and am looking for a strong start to act as the springboard for the season." His team-mates are the fast maturing Tommy Hill and last year's Yamaha R6 Cup winner Richard Wren.
Hawk Kawasaki have a twice Aussie challenge, with Dean Thomas and Glen Richards spearheading their efforts while the main Ducati thrust is expected to be provided by the returning force of GSE Racing with their riders James Haydon and Leon Haslam.
Adding further depth to the entry is the return to domestic action, after a dozen years and 186 grand prix races, of Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams to head up the three rider Stobart Honda team alongside Gary Mason and Michael Laverty on their all-new Fireblades, while triple British Supersport champion rides a similar machine in the Honda Racing UK colours. And, Jonathan Rea has a Honda in Red Bull colours while John Laverty rides the Vitrans Ten Kate bike.
Steve Plater and Jon Kirkham ride the Sendo Kawasakis while Dean Ellison and Gareth Glynn have Jentin Yamahas and as Vivaldi Racing graduates into the top flight, they will have a pair of Kawasakis for Ben Wilson and Tristan Palmer.
Ensuring action through the pack, there will be the chase for honours in the British Superbike Cup, for independent teams and riders, which should produce interesting action between former British 125GP Champion Chris Martin, James Buckingham, Marty Nutt, Malcolm Ashley and Michael Pensavalle.
And, for each of the riders, there is the added incentive for consistent fast riding, the Audi Performance Award. This takes account of fastest riders in all sessions and races plus rewarding pole starters and race winners as they bid for the end of season prize of a £30,000 limited edition Audi TT quattro.
Around the two Bennetts British Superbike Championship races there is a packed racing programme featuring the Metabo British Supersport Championship, the Metzeler Racetec National Superstock Championship and Cup, the British 125GP Championship and the Virgin Mobile Yamaha R6 Cup.