Tommy Hill has won the 2011 British Superbike Championship after an astonishing final race of the season in which the title was decided by a breathtaking last lap and a winning margin of just 0.006secs.
Arguably the most exciting title conclusion in the history of BSB, the pair went into the race with Hopkins heading the standings by two points, meaning that whoever beat one another on track, would likely lift the crown.
Even so, Hopkins had looked on course for the title as his better start got him ahead of Hill through the opening bends, the American looking fairly comfortable ahead of his Yamaha rival.
However, at the same time, Hopkins was being boxed in by second place man James Ellison, the Sorrymate.com SMT Honda rider pacing the pack enough to keep his rivals at bay, but not doing enough to allow Hopkins to stretch away from Hill.
As such, Hill stayed on Hopkins’s tail and steadily plotted his late charge, showing his intentions with four laps remaining by getting alongside for the first time at Clark Curve.
It was the prelude to his pass at Hawthorne’s on lap 17, Hill surprising many by nosing in front of Hopkins for the first time and swinging the championship pendulum back in his favour.
From here, Hill did what Hopkins had failed to do by getting past Ellison for second with just over a lap remaining, giving him a bigger buffer in the standings.
However, Hill’s charge would spark Hopkins into action, sweeping past Ellison in third and moving straight onto the back of his rival heading into the final lap.
Lining Hill up over the first part of the lap, Hopkins dived through for the first time into Surtees, but a wider line allowed Hill to have better drive out of the bend, the Yamaha man sliding back up the inside at Hawthorne’s.
However, a wiggle on the exit allowed Hopkins to strike up the inside of Westfield, giving him the edge with just three corners remaining. Nonetheless, Hill came straight back past with a daring move at Dingle Dell, setting the pair up for a grandstand finish around the very final bend at Clark Curve.
Unsurprisingly, Hopkins dived for the inside, but aware his rival was attempting it, Hill hung back slightly to switch up the inside as they entered the steeped curve onto the finishing straight.
Hill nosed ahead, but Hopkins’s momentum on the outside was carrying him forward, sending them across the line almost side-by-side. As it happens, the stopwatch would see Hill ahead by just 0.006secs, a bitter heartbreak for Hopkins who would have surely overtaken – to win the title – had the finish line been just a few extra metres away.
An explosion of emotion would erupt down the pit lane as Hill was confirmed as champion, with jubilation breaking out of Shaun Muir’s Swan Yamaha team, while Samsung Crescent Suzuki had to imagine what could have been as they were beaten to the title for the second-year in succession, ironically by the man that rode for them just a year ago.
Hopkins’s despair is made all the more heart-wrenching by the fact it was the mysterious electronic gremlin in race two, which consigned him to 12th place, that arguably cost him the title.
Nonetheless, with seven wins this season, Hill was the ‘winningest’ rider in BSB 2011, and comes a year after rescinding his title advantage into the final round of the 2010 season. Interestingly though, considering the ‘shootout’ format, Hill didn’t win any of the seven ‘Showdown’ races.
Almost forgotten by the battle behind, the race itself was won by Shane Byrne, who secured his second win of the day to take third in the standings, though the HM Plant Honda man may be aggrieved by the fact that, under the previous points’s system, he would have been crowned champion with 403 points to Hill’s 398 points.
Behind Hill and a clearly emotional Hopkins, James Ellison completed a stunning weekend with fourth place, ahead of Michael Laverty, Josh Brookes – who recovered from 20th -, Michael Rutter, Graeme Gowland, Peter Hickman and James Westmoreland.
Outgoing champion Ryuichi Kiyonari, meanwhile, handed over his BSB crown with a run to 11th.