Monday, August 11, 2008

BSB: Youth Over Experience at Knockhill

Tom Sykes and Leon Haslam shared the victories at Knockill on a day that gave us elbow to elbow racing amid the rain showers.

Race 1
Leon Haslam was on pole position, but it was Michael Rutter's NW200 Ducati that led into the first turn of the damp track. Tom Sykes was snapping at Rutter's heels, and the pair swapped paintwork at the hairpin a lap later. Sykes launched his Rizla Suzuki down the inside, but Rutter cut back inside, pushing the youngster out onto the exit kerb to retake the lead with the kind of firm but fair move that would have Casey Stoner in floods of tears. Cal Crutchlow dumped his HM Plant Honda into the gravel trap and out of the race, but back at the front the battle continued.

Sykes passed Rutter again, this time into Duffus Dip, however Rutter once more retook the lead with some good, clean fairing-bashing fun into the next corner. Sykes finally managed to dispatch Rutter, who had Haslam, Ellison and Byrne chasing him. Polesitter Haslam dropped out with an electrical problem, promoting James Ellison's Honda to 3rd place. Just to top off the HM Plant team's bad race, Haslam fell off the bike as he trundled back to the pits.

With the sun starting to shine, Sykes was lapping back markers before half distance. His job was made easier when Australian Billy "Skippy" McConnell slammed into Japanese Atsushi Watanabe's Suzuki at the hairpin. At least Watanabe can now fake an injury and blame it for his poor performances in BSB for the rest of the year. Shakey Byrne started to move up, first passing Ellison then winning a battle with fellow Ducati rider Michael Rutter for 2nd. Ellison also passed Rutter and was following Byrne closely when the Airwaves Ducati rider demonstrated the difficulty of lapping back markers when there is only a narrow dry line. Shakey clipped MV Agusta rider Chris Burns's handlebar, and both were very lucky to stay on their bikes.

Tom Sykes took his 3rd BSB victory on the trot, dedicating the win to his friend Craig Jones. Shakey Byrne and James Ellison completed the podium, while Gary Mason won the cup class.

Race 2
The start was delayed as the heavens opened, and when the lights finally went out, Leon Haslam took the holeshot and started to stretch out a lead from the following pack of Rutter, Byrne and Crutchlow. There was excitement as Byrne and Rutter battled again on their bellowing Ducatis, with the Airwaves rider coming out on top and grabbing 2nd place. The sun was coming out and a dry line appearing, but there were still huge plumes of spray on the start-finish straight. Suddenly there was a massive crash towards the back of the pack at Duffus Dip. Johnson and Grant ended up in ambulances, while Gilbertson fell trying to avoid them but was unhurt.

With the race red-flagged while the carnage was cleared up, there would be a new 20 lap race, with the grid decided by finishing positions in the aborted first race. The first row would be made up of Haslam, Byrne, Rutter and Crutchlow, but there was drama as Crutchlow rode his wet tyre-shod bike back into the pits and swapped to his slick-shod spare machine (most riders having an intermediate front and slick rear). It was a big gamble as he would have to start from the back of the grid, but he was wearing a Craig Jones helmet, and would scythe through the field in the spirit of Jonesy.

Michael Rutter used his legendary skill in dodgy conditions to lead from the restart, but he quickly dropped back, presumably because the track wasn't slippy enough. Byrne took the lead, then Haslam passed Rutter for 2nd, then "Blade" was passed again by Karl Harris on the Rob Mac Yamaha. Behind them, Crutchlow was setting fastest laps as he tore through the field.

Shakey Byrne was pulling out a lead, but started encountering backmarkers and was baulked, allowing Haslam and Sykes to close up. Most people don't realize how big a Dani Pedrosa fan Shakey is, but he showed it by performing a near-perfect re-enactment of the little Spaniard's MotoGP crash at Sachsenring earlier this year. As soon as he touched the brakes for Duffus Dip, the bike hit the tarmac at around 150mph. It was a terrifying roller coaster ride for Shakey as he bounced high in the air, but was luckily not flying too fast when he hit the tyre wall. The marshals got to show off their red flag twiddling skills yet again as Shakey was carted off in an ambulance as a precaution, though medics reported that he escaped with a battering and a bruising.

Although Byrne was leading when he did his bouncing bomb impression, he was not classified as he caused the red flag. This gave Leon Haslam his first victory of the season, and his first ever on a 4-cylinder bike. Michael Rutter took 2nd place. A big cheer was reserved for 3rd-place man Karl Harris, who had managed not to fall off or be torpedoed by any other riders for seemingly the first time this season. "Bomber" has had an awful year so far, having been punted off twice, missed 2 races due to injury, had a couple of breakdowns and fallen off on his own a couple of times. His podium was hard-earned. Sykes had to settle for 4th place, while Crutchlow had fought to an impressive 7th from the back of the grid. Chris Burns managed to shake off his race 1 fright to win the cup class.


Rob J Jones said...

I was lucky enough to get a couple of minutes to chat with Shakey Byrne at Knockhill on the Saturday (he wouldn't be drawn about a WSB ride) and he was a sponsor's dream - charming, chatty, friendly, time for everyone. While others were hiding from the rain (Mr Rutter) or monosyllabic (Mr Camier) Shakey was happy to deal with the anyone and everyone, with a grin. It was such a shame he fell from the lead in race 2 when he was the class of the field up to that point. Jimmy, your readers may enjoy the pictures I've published on Flickr - see the link at MotoGPBlog.

Jimmy said...

Oh, a free plug for your blog is it? What a cheek! :-)

My readers (yes, both of them) can also check out the Knockhill BSB gallery at MotorbikeSport.

Rob J Jones said...

Well I thought I added enough colour to get a plug in unnoticed, but perhaps not :)

The pics at MotorbikeSport are v good. Puts an amateur like me to shame.