Motorcycling: Reynolds to race just 37 days after breaking leg

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The Independent Online

John Reynolds will start the defence of his British Superbike championship at Brands Hatch today only 37 days after breaking his right leg in five places in a testing accident on his Rizla Suzuki.

John Reynolds will start the defence of his British Superbike championship at Brands Hatch today only 37 days after breaking his right leg in five places in a testing accident on his Rizla Suzuki.

The 39-year-old Nottingham rider will check how his shattered leg feels after two 50-minute practice sessions on his 200-horsepower bike on the 1.23-mile Indy circuit at the Kent circuit. But no matter what pain or discomfort he experiences, Reynolds is determined that he will be back on the track for tomorrow's qualifying sessions and Monday's two championship races.

"I'm going there to try to win," Reynolds said. "The problem with the Indy circuit at Brands is that if you're just half a second off the pace, you're buried at the back of the pack. If I don't win, I at least want to score points in both races and get the season off to a good start."

Reynolds' leg was so badly mangled when he crashed during a test session on the Valencia circuit last month that a normal person would be off work for months. But motorcycle racers are renowned for their ability to blank out fear and pain, and Reynolds will clock into his office - the cockpit of his 200mph Suzuki - at precisely 1.50pm today.

"I've asked my technicians to alter my right-foot brake settings so I can move around the bike more easily, but apart from that I'm ready," he said.

The team manager, Robert Wicks, said: "It's miraculous that "JR" has recovered sufficiently in just over five weeks to race at the opening round. The British bulldog determination and effort he has put into healing has been inspirational."

Reynolds had no alternative if he wanted a realistic chance of fighting for his fourth title. This season the championship will reach its most competitive level ever, with a dozen riders capable of winning one of the 26 races during the 13 rounds, and half a dozen of them having serious title ambitions.

Experts reckon that the British series is motorcycling's third most important championship, after the MotoGP and World Superbike series.

Reynolds' most feared rival - and his motivation for trying to score early points - is Michael Rutter, Honda's 31-year-old team leader. Rutter has twice been runner-up in the championship and twice finished third. Honda's legendary HRC racing department in Japan is providing him with a hand-crafted, £250,000 version of the Fireblade that racing fans can buy for £8,500 in a dealer's showroom.

Pressure will also come from Reynolds' team-mate, 29-year-old Scott Smart, who has championships coursing through his blood: his father, Paul, and late uncle, Barry Sheene, were racing stars of the Seventies. Smart won three races last year on the underdog Hawk Kawasaki, a performance that earned him promotion to the meticulously organised Suzuki squad.

"Now I'm in a team that can give me even more resources to win," he said. "I know how to get the best out of a bike, and I don't give up - if I fall off I'll dig the bike out of the gravel trap and get back in the race. And if I do well there could be a stepping stone from the British series to Suzuki's teams in world superbikes and MotoGP."

Five manufacturers are supporting the series, including Ducati, who field the 21-year-old Derbyshire rider Leon Haslam. Haslam will ride the bike that James Toseland took to the 2004 World Superbike championship in the Airwaves GSE team, where he will be managed by Colin Wright, who helped to guide Toseland, Neil Hodgson and Troy Bayliss to World Superbike titles.

"I was two seconds faster than anyone else during testing in Valencia and Albacete, so now I'm ready to push myself against the other British Superbike riders," Haslam said.

The riders are not the only stars of the British series. The 35 competitors will perform on circuits that are primitive by grand prix standards, with limited run-off areas and a profusion of earth banks, but offer spectacular action on their sweeping curves.

British Superbike Championship

Monday Brands Hatch

10 April Thruxton

24 April Mallory Park

2 May Oulton Park

15 May Mondello Park (Irl)

5 June Croft

26 June Knockhill

10 July Snetterton

21 Aug Silverstone

29 Aug Cadwell Park

11 Sept Oulton Park

25 Sept Donington Park

9 Oct Brands Hatch GP

Super talents six to watch

* John Reynolds, 39,

(Rizla Suzuki GSX-R1000)

The reigning champion starts with a broken leg, but no one on the grid is tougher than "JR"

* Michael Rutter, 31,

(HM Plant Honda Racing Fireblade)

Twice a runner-up in the series, he starts as favourite after Reynolds' pre-season crash

* Leon Haslam, 21,

(Airwaves Ducati F04)

One of Britain's young hopes. Brings grand prix and World Superbike experience to the home scene

* Jeremy McWilliams, 40,

(Stobart Honda Fireblade)

Brilliant development rider has competed in 186 grand prix races, but is unfamiliar with British tracks

* Scott Smart, 29, (Rizla Suzuki GSX-R1000)

Reynolds' team-mate and nephew of Barry Sheene and son of superbike star Paul Smart, seeks breakthrough

* Ryuichi Kiyonari, 22,

(HM Plant Honda Racing Fireblade)

Japanese sensation has been fast in pre-season testing on a Fireblade hand-made in Japan. Rutter's team-mate