BSB: What a year the boys have given us!
SO.....the MCE Insurance British Superbike season is over, and what a year it's been.
I don't think I've ever seen such an exciting and dramatic climax to a season as the one we witnessed at Brands Hatch on Sunday afternoon.
The atmosphere was electric, the crowd fantastic and that last lap between Swan Yamaha's Tommy Hill and the Samsung Crescent Suzuki of John Hopkins is doubtlessly one we will see for decades to come as an example of taking it right to the wire.
I was delighted for Hill and his Guisborough-based outfit - boss Shaun Muir has every right to be still dancing with pride (not that I have any evidence to suggest this has in fact been happening, what Muir does behind his own front door is clearly not my business) but at the same time I was gutted for Hopper and his team's charismatic leader Jack Valentine.
We also waved goodbye to outgoing champion King Kiyo - Ryuichi Kiyonari. It may not have been the greatest of seasons for the three-times British champ, but he leaves the HM Plant Honda team as the most successful rider in BSB history, an accolade fully deserved by the quiet Japanese rider who was fast straight out of the box when he arrived in 2004 and has given us masterclass after masterclass in delivering the perfect race.
But for me, the highlight of the 2011 season has been covering the Mirror.co.uk BSB-Evo Championship, notably a certain Graeme Gowland.
Regular readers will know I've followed the Allendale rider's progress since he burst onto the road racing scene in 2006, and this year I was sure he would emerge Evo champion when he signed for the WFR Honda 'dream team' last December.
From the first free practice session of the year it was clear that this bike was going to be the one to beat (incidentally, it very rarely was) so when Gowla made an uncharacteristic mistake later that weekend and crashed out and injured his wrist, it was a devastating moment.
Perhaps he returned too soon, but it wasn't until July when he was back in full fitness - and from that moment he flew. Clocking up 13 wins in the latter half of the year and fighting back to claim second in the championship the only down side was that by Brands Hatch I was running out of new things to report.
Wherever Gowland ends up in 2012, he's going to be one to watch and it seems the world has finally woken up to him. He's always been fast, he's always been a race winner and he will be champion very soon.
But the north didn't just deliver Gowla. No, third place in Evo this year went to an emerging talent from Bishop Auckland, Barry Burrell.
I have to admit that the 25-year-old's rise had slipped through my net because he had spent a number of years racing in Europe and our paths had never crossed, but he's certainly impressed me this year onboard the Buildbase BMW. Someone please give him a decent bike next year, he won't let you down.
Elsewhere in the Metzeler National Superstock 1000 Championship, Newcastle's Joe Burns has made his presence known. He's regularly been up there troubling the boys at the front and in the second half of the season was snapped up by the Pr1mo Kawasaki squad.
One of my paddock drinking buddies who works with the team has told me how much the squad rate him as a rider, and now they have secured him for next year believe he can win them the title.
And then there are 'the kids', namely Chrissy Rouse and Josh Corner who've kept me on my toes in the Sunoco British 125GP Championship - not least thanks to the musical chair syndrome which has affected them both this year.
Rouse turned 16 on Monday but he's barely out of babygrows (ask him, he was actually modelling one on Facebook last week) and as I predicted at the start of the year, he's really dazzled in his rookie season.
Corner, meanwhile is another cool character. He's 14 going on about 25 and I discovered he was quite taken by my OAP Brighton beach windbreaks I'd installed outside my motorhome at Cadwell. If they ever go missing I'll know where to look.
So now it's all done it's time to wait for all the pieces of the 2012 puzzle to start to fall into place and before we know where we are it'll be time to do it all over again.
Less than 180 days to go. I can't wait.
*All images by Full Throttle Imaging