Monday, July 16, 2007

BSB Oulton: Great Weather For Michelins

Oulton Park is a twisty, hilly, narrow racetrack. Exactly the kind of place where you don't want horrible weather, but that's what riders were faced with when the British Superbike Championship arrived there.
The Michelin wet weather dominance was carried over from Knockhill, with the HM Plant Honda riders taking a win each. They also shared near-identical crashes, so both left with 25 points, meaning Ryuichi Kiyonari maintains his slim championship lead over his team-mate Johnny Rea.
In Race One, former champ Greg Lavilla made it round one corner before falling off his Airwaves Ducati. It was the worst possible moment to be sliding along the track, surrounded by other riders and hidden in the heavy spray. Inevitably, one of the racers simply didn't see the Spanish star until way too late. Lavilla was run over, taking a heavy blow to the ribs but luckily nothing more serious. The safety car was deployed while medics looked after the Ducati rider and marshals cleared up the track.
Johnny Rea charged off after the restart, picking up where he left off at Knockhill. He lost the lead when he had a huge moment on the exit of the fast right-hander, Druids. His on-bike camera showed the Honda was well sideways and having a good try at throwing the Ulsterman over the handlebars. Somehow, Rea held onto it, and ran over the grass before rejoining in 3rd place. The bike was giving Johnny a subtle hint that he might like to be a bit lighter on the throttle at that point, but he wasn't going to let a machine tell him who's boss. A couple of laps later he did the exact same thing, only this time the Honda went even further sideways and flung him over the highside. He staggered away from the wreck and collapsed, winded, but with his recently repaired knee still intact.
HM Plant Honda team-mate Kiyonari took the opportunity to disappear into the wide grey yonder never to be seen again. He won by over 20 seconds, showing that you really need Michelins when the weather is like this.
Behind him, the other Hondas were also looking quick. Stobart Honda's Tom Sykes and Hydrex Honda's Karl Harris were battling with Walker for a podium spot when Sykes lowsided out of the race. Harris's charge was ended when he had a similar crash.
Leon Haslam was running in a clear 2nd place on his Airwaves Ducati when his tyre started to go south, eventually getting beaten into 4th by the battling duo of Shakey Byrne (Stobart Honda) and Chris Walker (Rizla Suzuki).
Race Two saw another great start from Johnny Rea, but he was soon overtaken by his team-mate Kiyonari. Unsurprisingly, Rea was taking things a bit easy and letting Kiyo run at his own pace, but he must have been amazed when the Japanese rider proceeded to have the exact same crash that the Ulsterman himself had had in the first race. Maybe the HM Plant Honda engine mapping was a tad harsh for that corner, because when Kiyonari got on the gas the bike slewed sideways and threw him over the top. Kiyo gamely hung onto the clutch for as long as possible, but the bike flipped over and was well and truly trashed.
Rea took things relatively easy, winning by just 12 seconds and celebrating with a cheeky pair of imaginary binoculars, looking for the rest of the field.
Behind him, Karl Harris finally managed to kick start his season with a flawless 2nd place. The big bruiser was overcome with emotion as he stood on the podium as the first Dunlop runner on a day when Michelin were unbeatable (as long as you kept them on the ground and not 3 feet above it, facing the sky).
Shakey Byrne took 3rd for his second podium finish of the meeting, a good day for the ex-champion.
Leon Haslam was 4th again, but this time it was an amazing performance. He seemed to be stopping at one point, apparently having found a false neutral. His left foot was flapping up and down as he struggled to find a gear, but he eventually picked up the pace again. Incredibly, it was later revealed that he had lost 3rd gear, so couldn't get to 4th or 5th and was forced to battle on with just 1st and 2nd gears available. Oulton in the rain was just slow and twisty enough for Haslam to get away with this great display of riding round a major problem.
Overall it was a great display from Michelin, who were untouchable. That is not to say that it was easy to win on Michelin tyres, as both Rea and Kiyo showed when they visited the Twilight Zone with their identical highsides at Druids. HM Plant Honda still dominate the championship, while their arch rivals Airwaves Ducati struggle. The Michelin tyres are proving to be a massive advantage in this British "summer". Greg Lavilla must have broken a few mirrors lately, and his wet-weather confidence has evaporated. Shakey and Stalker have both hit form, and it was great to see Karl Harris showing just how much that podium visit meant to him.

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