Express & Star

Rutter returns for 32nd straight season as region's stars prepare for the BSB opener

Michael Rutter will back on the start line this weekend – ready, incredibly, for his 32nd-straight year of competitive racing.

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The multiple Isle of Man TT, North West 200 and Macau GP winner still runs with the best on the roads.

But having sat out of most of last year's National Superstock 1000 championship, the Brierley Hill-born star will be lining up with team-mate Taylor Mackenzie at Oulton Park, in Cheshire, this weekend.

Rutter, who is also now team owner of Black Country-based Bathams Racing, has been busy as ever, working away behind the scenes on the all-new BMW, which he hopes will be good enough for MacKenzie and the team to pick up their first title.

Raced on the undercard of the main British Superbike (BSB) campaign, the National Superstock 1000 championship provides some of the closest and hardest-fought racing of the entire series.

Bathams Racing are also waiting on the fitness of two-time superstock 1000 champion Richard Cooper, who suffered a serious leg break at the start of last year's campaign.

In the meantime, Rutter, 49, will be helping to dial in the BMW, ready for Cooper's return whilst also getting back up to speed himself having spent so much time off the bike due to the pandemic.

"We've done quite a lot of testing as a team but I haven't done much myself," said Rutter.

"I've been doing a lot of running the bikes up and down airfields just to try and get them dialled in properly and to test the electronics.

"Everything appears to be working okay but everything is also very different again to the bike we were using last year.

"It's got different rods, yokes – basically, we're starting from scratch again because we can't use anything we learned about last year's bike.

"The later start to the campaign has certainly helped us because there hasn't been as much rushing around to try and get everything ready for the opening race.

"There's never enough time – we could've had another 12 months to get the bikes ready and we'd still have needed more time – but it's definitely helped us this year."

The BSB series starts this weekend at Oulton Park, before heading to Knockhill, in Scotland, July 9-11, and then Brands Hatch, in Kent, July 23-25.

"I used to love Oulton Park and I still like the circuit but they've added a lot more chicanes now, just to try and slow everyone down a bit," said Rutter.

"It means it's not as much fun but it's still a circuit I like and I'll be looking forward to it.

"Taylor was second fastest at Donington Park during the last official testing sessions, so we were all happy with that.

"But you never know how things are until you line up for that first race of the year.

"We've still got a lot of work to do to make sure this new BMW is running at it's best this weekend but we'll be hoping for a podium at least – and the goal is for Taylor to win the championship.

"We know how hard that will be because the racing was so close last year.

"We also just hope the first few rounds go as smoothly as possible. Because the calendar is so packed, any sort of error or injury could scupper the season straight away.

"However, we've done lots of testing, we've had more time to work on the new bike and we're looking forward to the first round, especially as we can welcome back the fans for the first time.

"I still don't understand why only 4,000 fans are able to stand in the middle of a huge former airfield to watch the racing but hopefully we'll all put on a good show for them.

"Richard has also been doing a little bit of testing but basically there's a bike ready for him when he's ready to come back.

"He's been looking better and stronger everyday but I wouldn't have thought he'd be back before half of the season has passed.

"For me, I need some more time on the bikes, especially as I'm hoping to get back to the Macau GP this year.

"It's amazing how un-bike fit I am – you can try and keep your fitness up all you like but racing a motorbike is a completely different thing."

In between working on the new BMWs, testing the bikes himself and preparing for the season opener, Rutter also managed to get out on a Manx Norton during classic bike meeting two weeks ago.

"It's the bike I'll be riding at this year's Goodwood Revival so we were testing that but, to be honest, it was nice just getting back out on a bike again," he said.

"After qualifying sixth, we had some problems with the bike so we weren't able to start the first race, but we got out for the second and I finished fourth.

"It was just a classic bike meeting but it was raced around the old Mallory Park circuit, one I'd never raced around before and I really enjoyed it.

"It was nice to get some track time ahead of Goodwood too."

Teenage sensation Storm Stacey, from Stafford, will also be back racing in the main BSB series with Team LKQ Euro Car Parts Kawasaki, while Brownhills-based Astro JJR will be boasting a three-rider strong team in the National Superstock 1000 series.

Cannock-based RICH Energy OMG Racing are running young stars Kyle Ryde and Bradley Ray in BSB, as well as Billy McConnell in National Superstock 1000.

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