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Kiyonari moves ahead in BSB with Oulton double

Raceline Photography

By Dan Moakes
July 23 2006

The 2006 British Superbike points position had closed up after events at Knockhill, so that Oulton Park’s ninth round saw Airwaves Ducati riders Gregorio Lavilla and Leon Haslam just ahead of HM Plant Honda’s Ryuichi Kiyonari. Who would now take the initiative?

Kiyonari’s cause looked likely to benefit from team-mate Karl Harris’ revival in form at Oulton. The same circuit had already seen the 26-year-old Yorkshireman put in his best ride of the season to date, and he had done much the same there in 2005. This year Karl recorded his first BSB pole position, and was the first of three Honda riders from the top four in qualifying.

Harris and Kiyonari (third) shared the front row with fourth man Jonathan Rea, on the Red Bull-backed FireBlade. In amongst them was Haslam, second on his 999 F06 and still looking for a first win of the season. Lavilla was back in eighth, starting off the front row for the first time in fourteen meetings.

Most recent winner Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne led row two with the Rizla Suzuki, from Virgin Yamaha’s Tommy Hill, Stobart Honda’s Michael Rutter and Lavilla. Glen Richards (Hydrex Honda), Michael Laverty (Stobart), Simon Andrews (Jentin Yamaha) and Scott Smart (Vivaldi Suzuki) occupied row three. Further back, Steve Plater was appearing for his third different team, joining the Rizla ranks in place of the still injured James Haydon.

Race one started well for the second and third men on the grid. ‘Kiyo’ converted into an immediate lead, and Haslam quickly swept past Hill and Harris for second. Rutter followed on, from Lavilla, Rea, Laverty, Byrne, Richards, Smart, Ben Wilson, Craig Coxhell and Billy McConnell. The early going saw Kiyonari and Haslam rapidly establish a lead over Hill and Harris, with Rutter and the rest falling further adrift.

However, the pole man’s race was fairly short lived. At the Foulstons chicane, a left-right-left complex, Harris went down as his bike leant far enough to clip the kerb of the main right-handed apex. Karl got the Honda up and going again, but it was only good enough to take him back into the pits. His team-mate then had the misfortune to lose the lead to Haslam, with the Ducati man going to the inside on the brakes for the final right-handed Lodge corner.

These two were not under threat from third man Hill at this point, but Lavilla soon emerged from the next pack and, with a new fastest lap, joined in as the first quartet made it a loose knit group contesting the lead. Kiyonari took back the initiative at Hizzys chicane, braking on the inside of Haslam as they approached the right-left-right combination at the bottom of the hill. Gregorio wanted a piece of this, and he challenged Hill on the outside for the left-hand curve of Island Bend. It put him on the inside for the banked loop of the Shell Oils hairpin, and he took third on the brakes.

Hill edged onto the grass through the first corner, the right-handed Old Hall, in his attempts to stay in touch, but the first three proved too quick for the Yamaha. Indeed, Kiyonari had soon established a useful lead as the Ducati pair indulged in a race for second. Haslam was to go in too hot at Shell, running wide and letting Lavilla slip through inside him. But later Leon slid the rear the of the Ducati on the brakes, getting the inside to pass Gregorio at Lodge.

The chequered flag saw Kiyonari cross the line with a 4.6s lead, and with next man Haslam having edged just out of range of Lavilla. The first three in the points table had finished the race ahead, but in the opposite order, and this closed the title battle accordingly. It was now Lavilla 260, Haslam 253, and Kiyonari 249. Meanwhile, Harris’ non-finish dropped him further into the next bunch.

Hill had ultimately lost out to both Byrne and Rea as the result of a mistake, and a good sixth then went astray when Tommy crashed. But the 21-year-old had been struggling after losing a footpeg, with accompanying gear change problems, and could not prevent a highside dismount exiting a tight left-hander at one of the chicanes. This left Rea to attack Byrne for fourth, only to fade in the dying stages. Rutter had dropped to sixth at the finish, leading home Laverty, Smart, McConnell and Coxhell. Richards was another not to finish, having run in P9 behind Laverty.

Race two saw Kiyonari lead away a Honda one-two-three, from Harris and Rea. Haslam went into fourth, from Rutter, Hill, Byrne, Lavilla, Laverty, Andrews, Smart, McConnell, Richards, Gary Mason and Plater. Rutter’s early progress was all in the wrong direction, as Hill, Byrne and Lavilla all found a way past in the jostle of the first lap. They would soon be joined by Laverty on the other Stobart Honda.

Haslam was still questing for a BSB win in ’06, and set about Rea at Shell Oils corner. Leon’s momentum took him wide, however, with his Ulster rival cutting back in for third position. As Harris and then leader Kiyonari broke the circuit record, the HM Plant boys pulled away from the rest. Haslam needed to deal with Rea to go after them, and his second attempt at Lodge did the trick. Meanwhile, Hill and Byrne contested fifth, with the rest falling even further behind.

Byrne soon got the better of Hill, bringing his Suzuki into a tussle for fourth as Haslam pulled away from Rea. Jonathan and Shane embarked on their third race for position at Oulton this year, remembering that the first had led to a tangle at the beginning of May. But as Kiyo and Harris strengthened their lead, which would be three seconds or so from here, drama hit in the Ducati camp. Seventh placed Lavilla had to cruise back to the pits, with a broken clutch giving increasing difficulty. Kiyo and Haslam were on target to move ahead overall.

Kiyonari and Harris motored on unchallenged, until a late burst meant the Japanese rider started to ease away. His margin of victory was ultimately 2.8s, with Haslam securing a solitary third. A wide moment at one of the chicanes had seen Byrne lose ground to Rea, and they duly finished in that order to both stay in front of Harris in the points battle.

With Laverty having exited before Lavilla, Hill took the sixth he’d missed earlier, and Rutter made it his best weekend since Mallory with seventh. The latter stages had seen a titanic six man battle for positions eight and beyond, led to begin with by the Hydrex Hondas of Mason and Richards. Glen had passed Gary on the inside for Old Hall, only for the younger man to fight back. Mason went to the outside along Lakeside and into Island, getting the verdict on the inside at Shell. This also let Wilson pass Richards on the way out of the hairpin.

But Richards got his own back in short order, and in fact Mason lost ninth to Wilson as they crossed the finish line in short order, with Plater, Ollie Bridewell and Coxhell in tow. Steve had earlier passed the rookie and challenged Wilson on the penultimate lap and, with Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda experience under his belt, was an encouraging eleventh on his Suzuki début. Kieran Clarke and Andrews took the other points.

Domination for HM Plant Honda was surely only avoided courtesy of Karl Harris’ race one exit, and the double victory for Ryuichi Kiyonari gave him the points advantage for the first time since early last year. Gregorio Lavilla had been making amends for his low scores in the preceding three races, but clutch failure lost him the chance to at least stay right amongst his two challengers. But Airwaves Ducati at least had Leon Haslam make it fourteen podium visits, with the consistent rider as close as he’s been. Shane Byrne, Jonathan Rea and Tommy Hill were the best of the rest this time, but a three-way race is on ahead of them.

Standings after sixteen races: Kiyonari 274; Haslam 269; Lavilla 260; Byrne 174; Rea 153; Harris 149; Laverty 127; Hill and Rutter 118; Smart 82; Richards 80; Coxhell 69.

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