Shane Byrne piped Ryuichi Kiyonari to the finishing line on the final corner to remain top of the championship in what turned out to be a scintillating and drama packed opening round of the British Superbike final showdown.
|The War for Four is on
Photo: MCE BSB
It was a soggy Assen TT Circuit that set the scene for the opening round of the season finale and the more crucially where the battle for the title begins. As race day arrived it was clear that the weather was going to play a part in the racing and this became more inevitable as race one loomed. The circuit in Assen is well known for its superfast drying track. So when the rains stopped and a gap emerged in the clouds before the riders took to the starting line, it caused turmoil throughout the paddock and a massive debate amongst the teams over the most suitable tyre choice, with the majority of the teams deciding to go with the full wets.
Wildcard rider Christian Iddon lined up on the grid in pole position and got a flying start off the line but it was Quattro Plant Kawasaki’s Dan Linfoot who got the holeshot. It was an unlucky start for Milwaukee Yamaha’s Josh Brookes who was forced to start at the back of the grid due to failing to line up on the starting grid in time and then the showdown contender went on to crash out on the opening lap. On the second lap Byre managed to overtake both Iddon and Linfoot to take the lead.
As the pack continued to push on, Iddon found himself under attack by the wet weather specialist Josh Waters, followed by Buildbase BMW rider Kiyonari and and FFX Yamaha’s Filip Backlund. Lap 9 saw another heavy rain shower begin and the riders on the intermediate tyres starting to struggle. Moments later Jon Kirkham on intermediates skidded out of the race. From that point onwards the riders on the wets began to excel.
For the middle part of the race it was Backlund who was providing the entertainment by riding his bike to the limits and enduring some hair-raising near falls. However his luck ran out on turn 12 and he crashed out on turn 8 at Stek-Ken-Wal. This also proved to be the corner where the championship leader Byrne would skid off his bike and crash out of third position on the penultimate lap leaving Kiyonari and Waters to fight it out to the end.
Waters who had led for the closing stages of the race found himself under fire on the final lap by Kiyonari who stole the lead for a few split seconds before skidding wide and allowing the Australian back through and to cross the line first. A second place finish for Kiyonari meant he had moved second in the championship and closed the gap to Byrne to 7 points. As a result it was all to play for going into race two. It was Stuart Easton who sealed the final podium place.
The weather cleared up ahead of race two and as a result a dry race unfolded. It was Kirkham who set the fastest lap in race one and subsequently was the pole man in race two. As the lights went out Hopkins emerged first into the opening corner followed by Kiyonari. Not all the riders got through the opening corners unscathed as the already hurt Chris Walker and Peter Hickman had collision putting an end to their race. Buildbase BMW’s Kiyonari stole the lead from Hopkins at the end of the opening lap and led for the remainder of the race. By lap four Byrne had forced himself into second and he rode the remainder of the race stuck to the back of Kiyonari like glue forcing the Japanese rider to adopt a defensive riding style. After a few unsuccessful overtook manoeuvres the exultant Byrne left his ultimate move to final corner when he stole the victory from Kiyonari and he remains the championship leader with a 12 point advantage over the second place finisher.
Milwaukee Yamaha’s Tommy Bridewell was right behind the leaders in the final few laps but he could not muster up a move and was forced to settle for third. Despite his teammates Brookes disastrous weekend, crashing out in race one and then being forced to retire due to a mechanical problem in race two, the Australian sits third in the championship standings.
Race two winner and championship leader Byrne admitted that he was taking a risk leaving his move to the final corner. He said: “Honestly I didn’t know when to make my move. Our pace at the start of race wasn’t that far off but Kiyonari’s bike was moving about a bit and I thought ‘is this is all he’s got’ and I know I can go a bit quicker than this. Then he picked it up towards the end and I thought yeah he was sandbagging a bit but my mid-corner to exit speed from turn 15 down towards the last chicane had been strong this morning in the warmup and then again in the race there and I thought if I passed him before he was bound to have a go at me in the last lap, so I left it and fortunately I pulled it off.”
Kiyonari who took two second place finishes at Assen admitted that he knew Shakey was going to make a move and try to get past him. He said: “Three laps to go he tried to go past me in the same corner but maybe at that point I’m not fast enough and not strong enough. I’m very disappointed because for many laps I had been leading the race. It was the same in race one as race two but different situation. But I got some good points for the championship and we will try again next round at Silverstone and hopefully I can win.”
Bridewell achieved his goal this weekend to grab a top 3 finish and he now sits fourth, just 5 point behind teammate Josh Brookes in the championship standings. He said: “All credit to the Milwaukee Yamaha guys we struggled so much on Friday and Saturday morning but they got the bike perfect for qualifying and of course I was happy. Race one completely messed the plan up and race two I started 18th. So it was a massive job I had on but I felt so good on the bike just literally couldn’t quite do enough to get Byrne and Kiyonari but I will soon. I’m sort of sitting their patiently at the minute. I could see what Shakey was going to do because every ttime he was so quick I could match him and it’s about time he won a race and so I thought I would let him have this one. I was thinking go on Shakey have a go and go a bit wide with the pair of you and I will just nip through. So onwards and upwards now to Silverstone for sure.”
The second round of the final showdown gets underway at Silverstone in two weeks’ time where the battle between Shakey and Kiyonari will continue and Brookes will be hoping to complete a race.