Monday, May 12, 2008

BSB Brands: Cal and Shakey Share Champagne

The British Superbike circus finally rolled into Brands Hatch for the rescheduled "Round One", aka Round Three of the championship, and the spoils were shared by Coventry's Cal Crutchlow and Shakey Byrne.

The grid lineup was slightly odd, since the qualifying times from 5 weeks ago still stood. However, Shane "Shakey" Byrne was on pole, which is hardly a surprise. Among the missing were Karl Harris, who has been beaten black and blue so far this season and apparently had to be ordered not to show up by his team, and Dean Ellison, who had a terrible crash through no fault of his own last time out at Oulton.

Race 1 started with a fight between the young guns of Cal Crutchlow and Tom Sykes. Both had a terrible time in the second race at Oulton. Cal ended up with a dislocated ankle and painful ligament damage, while Sykesy ended up on his backside after being torpedoed by the other HM plant bike. However, these two youngsters are setting the championship alight this year. Crutchlow somehow shrugged off the fact that his ankle is held on with sticky tape, and led for much of the race. Sykes kept him honest, but Shakey Byrne inevitably progressed onwards and upwards through the lap charts. The veteran rider picked off Sykes, and when Cal ran wide, both Shakey and Sykesy nipped through the gap. The leading trio held their positions to the flag, with Byrne winning from Sykes and Crutchlow.

Behind them, Leon Haslam managed to take 4th place after an atrocious start. The Derbyshire lad was lapping at the same pace as the leaders, but the bad start had left him around 3.5 to 4 seconds back and unable to close the gap. 5th was secured by lanky Leon Camier, who is now 6'4" again (Jack Burnicle sways between 6'3" and 6'4" when describing Camier, I don't know if the commentator actually measures the rider before each race or what...) Chris Burns wrestled the MV Agusta to victory in the Cup class, though he was concerned by the fuel warning light coming on before the end of the race.

Race 2 was absolute bedlam. Leon Bedlam, no that's Leon Haslam, managed to take the lead early on, this time having the good start that he needed to go with his good pace. Unfortunately, the chaos that has followed Haslam the Younger around this year was again in attendance. The number 91 HM Plant Honda ran off the track while he was easily leading, and ended up losing a bucketload of time.

Cal Crutchlow was in the front again, still ignoring his knackered ankle, even though he needed it to work the rear brake. Shakey Byrne managed to pass Tom Sykes for 2nd place, but at that exact moment the pace car was deployed as privateer Malcolm Ashley had suffered a monumental crash. Just to be safe, the Airwaves Ducati team signalled Shakey to drop back to 3rd and avoid any possible penalty for passing under pace car conditions. It was a bitter blow for Ashley. Not only did he crash in race 1, but a marshal laughed at him for having a funny crash and was lucky not to be wearing a Kawasaki up his crevice. His race 2 crash was massive, and he had to be stretchered off in an ambulance, but is expected to make a full and swift recovery. He might have to buy his own replacement parts, but at least he's talented enough to fit them himself.

When racing started again, the race officials had tacked on another 3 laps to make sure there was a 5 lap dash for the cash. Unfortunately it was cut short when Tom Sykes had his engine explode in spectacular fashion, the Yorkshireman surfing his bike into the gravel trap before jumping up and yelling at the marshals to get the oil flags out. For some reason, the officials thought that it was dangerous to have a 180mph braking zone drenched in lubricant, so they quickly red-flagged the race.

Crutchlow had somehow managed to stay at the front long enough to pick up a victory. Shakey Byrne was gutted to have to accept 2nd place instead of a double, having clearly had the pace to challenge the ailing rider in front. The magnificently laid back Leon Camier took 3rd place, his helmet, leathers and bike completely covered in oil from Sykesy's Suzuki. While most people would be waking up screaming for weeks after that kind of experience, Camier was as laconic as ever. The youngster is progressing nicely, even if he thinks he should be winning as much as his far more experienced team-mate. This time, John Laverty won the Cup class on his NorthWest 200 Ducati.

Shakey Byrne still has a handsome lead in the championship, but Crutchlow and Sykes are now hitting form rather than hitting the deck. They'll do well to get anywhere near Shakey in the title race, but they should be taking a few victories between them as the year rolls on. This season has been outstanding, and it just keeps getting better.

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