Shane Byrne made a winning return to the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship in an opening round thriller on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, but he was unable to complete the double as Tommy Hill took the second race and with it the lead in the title stakes.
HM Plant Honda superbike rider Byrne had shattered the outright lap record to claim the pole start and he put that to good use, heading the pack but not for long before Swan Yamaha’s Michael Laverty overtook him at Graham Hill Bend.
Byrne chased hard with Hill third ahead of reigning British Superbike champion Ryuichi Kiyonari who had escaped injury in a heavy tumble during the morning warm-up practice.
Laverty appeared to have things under control but at one thirds distance his bike swerved wickedly out of line, high-side him off right in front of both Byrne and Hill. They managed to avoid him, Hill running well wide and dropping back to eleventh place, while Byrne held onto second, though now trailing MSS Colchester Kawasaki superbike rider Stuart Easton.
Adding to the drama Kiyonari stopped with a machine problem and Graeme Gowland, John Laverty and John Hopkins crashed in separate incidents, bringing intervention from the Nissan GTR Safety Car as the marshals cleared the problems. As racing resumed, Byrne soon found a way ahead of Easton while Hill was carving through the British Superbike pack.
Josh Brookes who had moved his Relentless Suzuki into second place highsided off at the bottom of Paddock Hill while Michael Rutter ran third on the Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati only to lose ground in a thrilling finale as Hill came through to take second place. Tommy Bridewell on the Tyco Honda snatched third with the flag in sight, from Easton while Jon Kirkham finished fifth on the Samsung Crescent Suzuki Superbike ahead of Rutter.
In the second race Byrne again took the lead but Hill was constantly harassing him in a front-running duel over the opening 13 laps before the Swan Yamaha rider made the telling move, taking the lead and then holding off his Honda rival.
Behind them Laverty, unscathed from his earlier tumble, was holding off Kiyonari in a fast moving scrap with the three times title winner finally taking over in third place on lap 23 and then with a series of fast laps closing down on his team-mate Byrne.
Byrne, running fast through Clark Curve on the penultimate lap, decided to attack Hill going into Paddock Hill Bend and briefly snatched the lead, only to run wide, losing a further place to Kiyonari.
Hill, still having some pain from the elbow injured in a superbike crash during testing the previous week, took the victory by 0.142secs from Kiyonari with Byrne less than half a second down in third place. Laverty was fourth, ahead of Samsung Crescent Suzuki’s John Hopkins and Stuart Easton.
Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha YZF-R1 Superbike) says: “This is a fantastic start for me. New team, new bike and I am leading the series, and looking ahead to the Showdown later in the season having scored podium credits can be so important. I have to thank the doctors who helped me through the injury. It is down to fitness and I have come away from it with the championship lead.”
Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR Superbike) says: “Tommy just got away from me but my bike was working well and I had a go for the lead at Paddock Bend, got it but ran wide and on the short circuit there is no way back. But, it was great start for me with the team to win the opening race, and all of the credit has to go to them for their work.”
Team WFR Honda riders Glen Richards and Alex Lowes, with a win and a second place apiece, head the Mirror.co.uk BSB-EVO class points standings, with Simon Andrew in third place, having taken a brace of thirds aboard his PR Kawasaki.
The second round of the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship is at Oulton Park this coming weekend, April 30/May 2.
2011 Brands Hatch Indy British Superbike Results
Race one – 30 laps – top six
1: Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda)
2: Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha) +1.154s
3: Tommy Bridewell (Tyco Honda) +2.667s
4: Stuart Easton (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +2.764s
5: Jon Kirkham (Samsung Crescent Racing) +3.408s
6: Michael Rutter (Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati) +4.310s
Race two – 30 laps – top six
1: Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha)
2: Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda) +0.142s
3: Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda) +0.598s
4: Michael Laverty (Swan Yamaha) +4.463s
5: John Hopkins (Samsung Crescent Racing) +10.089s
6: Stuart Easton (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +11.984s
2011 British Superbike Championship standings after round one
1: Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha) 45
2: Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda) 41
3: Stuart Easton (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) 23
4: Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda) 20
5: Michael Rutter (Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati) 19
6: Tommy Bridewell (Tyco Honda) 16