Neil Hodgson is a BSB and WSBK champion and a commentator for BT Sport. He’s got his finger on the pulse in the MotoGP, WSBK, and BSB paddocks and his encyclopaedic knowledge of bike racing make him perfectly placed to preview the season ahead.
“This season promises to be a classic. Last year, the class was dominated by the best rider on the best bike. Johnny Rea was a class above his rivals, and he finally had the bike under him that matched his talent. There are no two ways about it, he’s rapid and consistent.
“This year the already-strong Kawasaki has been upgraded, and I expect it to be leading from the front again. The good news is that Tom Sykes is back. He was hurting last year – having a new team-mate come into ‘your’ team and win the title on ‘your’ bike will have felt like a massive slap in the face – but he’s come back strong in testing and is already on the pace. That’s good news for the team; there will be two riders on the same bike, both capable of wins, but my money’s on Rea. He’s simply the better rider.
“The good news for the series is that these two can be challenged. Chaz Davies finished the second half of last season in the form of his life, and he’s kept the momentum going into testing. The Ducati Panigale R is a good package, the team is proven and he’ll definitely be in the hunt.
“The Yamaha Factory squad has a good bike too. The R1 is quick – it dominated BSB last year – but it lacks the development at this level, and the team will be playing catch-up for the first few rounds. But once it finds its feet both Alex Lowes and Sylvain Guintoli will be up there. They’re both quick, and both former champions.
“Alex Lowes is definitely the one to watch. He’s fast and fearless, but he’s now matured as a racer and that combination means he’ll be towards the sharp end.
“And then there are the newcomers to the series – Josh Brookes and Nicky Hayden. Brookes is quick and a hard racer, and he showed his talent by winning last year’s BSB championship. If he can adjust to the BMW then he could cause a few upsets. And Hayden needs no introduction. He’s quality – he’s won a MotoGP crown – and he’s already looked quick on the Blade in testing. The bike may be old, but Hayden is driven with a desire to prove the doubters wrong, and he may win a race or two.”