LIKE so many sporting disciplines, the British Superbike Championship has evolved over the years.

The origins can be traced back to the late 1960s when the emerging Japanese manufacturers were introducing their new 750cc machines onto the world stage to compete with the previously all-conquering British bikes. Domestic race organisers decided that a new class would showcase this new order and with the backing of weekly biking paper Motor Cycle News (MCN), the MCN Superbike Championship was born in 1971.

Bolstered by the titanic battles involving double World 500cc Champion Barry Sheene along with the likes of local Yorkshire heroes Mick Grant and Dave Potter, as well as Ron Haslam, Steve Parrish, Roger Marshall and Keith Huewen, and prior to them John Cooper, Dave Croxford, Ray Pickrell and Percy Tait, it gained in stature over a decade.

During that time, it was widely recognised that the MCN Superbike Championship was the premier race series in the UK meaning the manufacturers backed it and was the one which every rider wanted to win. However, during the early 1980s, the 750cc two-stroke machines disappeared, largely due to them being scrapped at world level and instead, British racing went through a transition period.

Eventually, 1987 saw the road-bike based British Superstock Championship, again backed by MCN, emerge as the premier series before the British Formula One Championship had its turn but this soon was replaced by the Superbike class, largely because of the flourishing World Superbike Championship that had begun in 1988.

Into the 1990s with British racing becoming more fragmented as commercial rights collided with the need for television coverage and as a result it dictated standalone races (or minimal series) with often multiple champions being crowned. But all that changed in 1995 with the creation of the Motor Cycle Racing Control Board (MCRCB) who assumed control from the ACU.

A massive shake up ensued, the popular two-race format arrived and similar rules which mirrored those of the World Superbike Championship were implemented. After the initial toe-in-the-water series of 1995, it was Scot Steve Hislop who was victorious and thus the modern day British Superbike Championship was born.

Whilst there have been a few radical changes over the years, effectively it’s the same format now as it was 25 years ago. Star names, works bikes, big teams, live television, close racing, and tens of thousands of fans packing into the major British circuits.

Having reopened their doors in 1995, it took a further nine years before Croft got to host a round and there was a controversial reason behind it. The new track at Rockingham near Corby (now defunct incidentally) had been chosen to run a round in 2001 but a serious accident saw championship contender Steve Hislop break a leg when he collided with a retaining wall which prompted a call for safety improvements. There, began a fractious relationship between the race organisers and the circuit owners over the next couple of years, which led to an announcement in February that for one year only, Croft would host the ‘Rockingham round’ in 2004.

It was to be the first time since May 1980, when Steve Manship won the ACU Solo Championship round at Croft on his 750cc Yamaha that the North East had hosted a round of Britain’s premier series. Interest was at fever pitch as plans forged ahead, especially amongst those race teams, riders and senior officials who were based in the North East as well as the legions of race-starved fans.

On a fine August weekend, a record 28,000 fans flocked through the gates for the tenth round of the series and witnessed HM Plant Honda rider Michael Rutter win both BSB races on his factory-supported Honda Fireblade with local ace Dennis Hobbs from Guisborough on the podium too in the supporting Superbike Cup class. Jay Vincent won the Supersport race for Padgetts Honda in which future MotoGP star Cal Crutchlow finished ninth whilst in the 125cc race, it was another rider to go onto great things, Eugene Laverty, who took the victory for the Red Bull Rookies team.

Frenchman Julien Da Costa won the National Superstock race on his MSS Discovery Kawasaki with a young Peter Hickman, the future TT star, winning the Superstock Cup race for Hawk Kawasaki. And it was the late, great Ollie Bridewell, who tragically lost his life just three years later, who was a popular winner of the Virgin Mobile Yamaha R6 Cup race. All gloriously showcased on live television.

Rockingham never hosted another BSB race and instead, Croft kept its slot on the calendar until 2011 when, following a couple of washouts resulting in low crowds and the restrictive impact of the 2009 injunction, it was decided not to continue and Assen in the Netherlands replaced Yorkshire’s finest from 2012 onwards.

And whilst the ever-popular British Touring Car Championship has been a fixture at the North Yorkshire track annually since 1997, and will visit again in October this year, there is a great desire to get top class two-wheeled action back to the North East.

Time will tell…

Dateline: August 13/14/15, 2004

Location: Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire

Meeting: Think! British Superbike Championship