Tuesday, May 08, 2007

BSB Oulton Park: Wins for Lavilla and Kiyonari

The British Superbike meeting at Oulton Park produced some hard racing, as riders fought tooth and nail for positions one of the most narrow, twisting and undulating tracks on the calendar.
The usual suspects were at the sharp end, with Lavilla and Kiyonari taking a win each.
In race one, the Spaniard and his Japanese rival were joined by Leon Haslam in the fight for victory. Haslam seems to have conquered his tyre and setup problems after a slow start to the season, and is right back on the form he showed last year.
Kiyo led into turn one, and as the pack sorted themselves out it became a race between his HM Plant Honda and the two Airwaves Ducatis of Haslam and Lavilla. The Spaniard was in a determined mood, scything past Kiyonari to lead the race. His English team-mate was just as fired up, and vaulted into the lead. Behind them, Kiyo was having trouble braking hard enough to pass the Ducatis, pulling alongside several times but failing to pull off the pass.
Lavilla is usually a very fair and smooth rider, but his pass on Haslam for the lead was straight from the playbook of his compatriot Toni Elias. As Leon took his usual, slightly wide entry to the steeply banked Shell Oils corner, Greg launched his bike down the inside, crunching into his team-mate's fairing. Haslam was forced to lift the bike up, and Lavilla accelerated into first place. It was a firm but fair move, with emphasis on the word "firm". Unlike Valentino Rossi in the Elias MotoGP incident, Haslam made no complaint about his rough treatment. Most people agree that shoving your team-mate into the gravel is well out of order, but forcing him to lift the bike up a bit in a corner is perfectly fair. However, it was still a surprise to see such an aggressive pass between the two Ducatis.
Lavilla took the victory, with Haslam finishing second. Perhaps wisely, Kiyonari took 3rd place, deciding not to attempt a heroic last-lap manoeuvre on Haslam, who must still have been fuming. Behind them, Johnny Rea took a respectable 4th place, with Tom Sykes 5th ahead of his team-mate Shakey Byrne. Sykes is quietly putting together an impressive debut season on the Stobart Honda. His fellow rookie Leon Camier started well but faded with tyre problems.
Race two started strangely, with the track slightly damp and nobody quite sure how hard to push. The two losers were Lavilla and Rea, who were miles down the order by the end of lap one. The surprise leader was Tom Sykes, capitalising on a front row start, but he was soon overhauled by another surprise leader, Tommy Hill. The Virgin Media Yamaha rider has had a torrid start to the season, despite a great qualifying result at Thruxton. There are dark rumours that his tyre suppliers, Pirelli, are concentrating too much on making consistent tyres for the whole WSBK field, and not enough on quick tyres for BSB. Hill was at the sharp end of the pack for most of the race, but cruelly started to drop back in later laps, finishing 7th. Haslam was first to pass Hill, followed by Kiyonari, who was looking fast but erratic. Sure enough, Kiyo sailed past Haslam into the lead and pulled out a small gap. After a titanic struggle, Shakey Byrne managed to pass Hill for 3rd spot.
Behind the leaders, Lavilla and Rea were having incredible races, with both of them giving brilliant displays of speed and controlled aggression. Lavilla kept setting fastest laps as he sliced through the field, finishing a breathtaking 4th after being around 15th on lap 1. Johnny Rea was doing the same, eventually snatching 5th place by slaughtering Sykes and Hill on the last lap. Rea is not yet the finished article in terms of consistency, but his racecraft was flawless as he battled through the field.
Gregorio Lavilla still leads the championship, but Ryuichi Kiyonari has taken 3 wins from the last 4 races. The championship battle looks to be between the current and previous British Superbike champions, but the youngsters in their first and second years of BSB are really starting to turn heads.

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