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Double for Leon Haslam at Donington Park BSB

© Raceline Photography

By Dan Moakes
September 30 2007

Jonathan Rea was 41 points behind HM Plant Honda team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari, with four races to run in the 2007 Bennetts British Superbike Championship. To be champion, Rea would really need to win all the races, with at least a non-finish from ‘Kiyo’. But what would the opposition be doing as the series reached round twelve, at Donington Park?

The last three dry weather BSB races held at Donington had been won by Airwaves Ducati rider Gregorio Lavilla, although Kiyonari and the Honda did the double at the end of 2004. In the rest of the current field, Shane Byrne, Chris Walker, Michael Rutter, Scott Smart and James Haydon all have previous Superbike wins at the circuit, which has mostly undulating and flowing bends, plus a couple of fast straights and two tight hairpins at the end of the lap.

Qualifying produced a different-looking grid, with the first two riders each getting a best-yet for the year. This meant the first pole position for Stobart Honda class rookie Tom Sykes, and second for fan favourite Chris Walker, on the Rizla Suzuki. Of course, the HM Plant and Airwaves riders were among the quickest, with Kiyonari fourth and Rea sixth on the two Hondas; Lavilla was eighth, with partner Leon Haslam filling slot three on the front row.

Cal Crutchlow was fifth on the second Suzuki, with Byrne seventh on the second Stobart machine. Karl Harris (Hydrex Honda), Rutter (MSS Kawasaki), Tommy Hill (Virgin Yamaha) and Smart (Hawk Kawasaki) made up row three, with Haydon next, also for Hawk. Harris had needed to gamble on a changed suspension on the day of the race.

Race one saw Walker make his characteristic fast start, and go into the lead. Rea and Sykes followed, with Haslam passing Kiyonari when they got down the hill to the Old Hairpin right-hander. Crutchlow was sixth. Haslam wanted to be on the move, and a lap later he got onto the outside of Sykes at the exit of the fast left-hander at the downhill Craner Curves, which meant he was on the inside for the braking zone at Old Hairpin - and so he went ahead.

Walker and Rea led, with a minor gap to Haslam, Sykes, Crutchlow, Kiyonari, Byrne and Rutter. Hill went down when he lost the rear of his Yamaha at the right-handed McLeans Corner, at the circuit’s far end. Suzuki had only managed two third place results in 2007, in the face of Honda and Ducati domination, and sure enough Walker was challenged by Rea. The 20-year-old Ulsterman made it past at the final Goddards hairpin, getting tight on the inside for the left-hander.

Walker then lost out to Haslam at the Fogarty Esses, where the track goes left-right at the end of the Starkeys Straight. Chris retook Leon on the inside for the next right-handed Melbourne hairpin, but the Ducati man was able to repeat his pass on the brakes at the Esses. With Rea going quickly and pulling away in the lead, and after Crutchlow had dived past Sykes at McLeans, the next group was now Haslam, Walker, Crutchlow, Sykes, Kiyo and Byrne.

The next action saw first Sykes and then Kiyonari pass both Rizla Suzukis, with Crutchlow getting the better of team-mate Walker at the same time. Chris then found Byrne coming by at the Esses, and then his front wheel touched the rear of the Honda as he followed closely at Melbourne. Haslam was now with Rea, and with Sykes and Kiyonari not far behind. Crutchlow and Byrne were together, as Walker fell back towards Lavilla.

There was more drama to come, not least right at the front. The Esses again saw Haslam make a passing manoeuvre, this time taking the lead from Rea. The young Honda rider wanted to respond, but somehow managed to send the bike crazily from side to side when braking into Melbourne. He was attacking Leon’s position, and so had to pass in front of the Ducati, as it turned, running too far into the corner. Haslam went wide, losing out to both Sykes and Kiyonari, but was not significantly delayed. Rea had been delayed, though.

Sykes now led Kiyo and Haslam, with Crutchlow getting close, and Byrne not far off in P5. Haslam’s recovery saw him successively pass Kiyo then Sykes, both times at the Fogarty Esses. With four laps left to run, Crutchlow was the fourth man in the group, and looking for his first podium result in BSB. The 21-year-old tried to go inside Kiyonari at Goddards, but was not far enough up and managed to take both bikes out. Ryuichi could see useful points going down the drain, and was even more obviously upset when he couldn’t get the Honda to restart.

However, Kiyo’s rival Rea was only fourth after the accident, and he then lost a further place as Lavilla arrived and passed at Goddards. Haslam had moved into a secure lead to take the win, with Byrne in attacking mode close behind Sykes as the Stobart Honda team got both men on the podium. Lavilla, then Rea, then Walker finished next, with Smart, Haydon, Rutter, Steve Plater and then Ian Hutchinson, who was taking over injured Leon Camier’s Bike Animal Honda.

For race two, Crutchlow would have to race with a new injury to his right forearm, and Kiyonari was not too upset with him, despite Cal admitting his mistake. Again it was Walker who took the lead, from Sykes, Rea, Haslam, Kiyonari, Crutchlow, Lavilla, Smart, Rutter, Harris, Plater, Haydon and Hill. Sykes overtook Walker at Melbourne, but was a bit wide and this let the Suzuki man fight his way back through.

The Esses were again a good place for place changes. When Haslam went in a bit too late there, Kiyonari was able to pass him coming out. And it was at the same place that Sykes took the lead from Walker, as Rea was losing out to Kiyo and Haslam. The first four began to pull away, with Sykes leading Walker, Kiyo and Haslam. Rea, Crutchlow and Lavilla were next, with Byrne moving into eighth but a way back.

Kiyo was a bit sideways passing Walker at the Esses, with two similar bikes racing as Crutchlow passed Rea. Sykes was getting away up front, but now Kiyo was able to start chasing him down. Haslam passed Walker at the Esses, then went after the first two as the slightly slower Suzuki fell away. Fifth man Crutchlow pulled out at this point with his bike in trouble, so that Rea, still sliding it on the brakes, and Lavilla moved up.

The first three closed together, and Kiyo took the lead from Sykes at the Esses. Haslam also passed him there but the trio stayed together. A win would just about seal the title for Kiyonari, and now we saw how much he was pushing as he got ragged coming out of Redgate, the first, right-handed corner. The Honda went just off the edge of the circuit, and Kiyo came back on but now behind Walker in fourth.

Haslam and Sykes were still close and then there was a gap back to Walker. Kiyo quickly caught and passed the Suzuki, then moved clear as he tried to recover further. But that was how they finished, with Lavilla alone in fifth, and Byrne just defeating Rea at the close for sixth. In fact, Haslam had run a bit wide at Goddards, trying to defend, but just held on from Sykes for the double. Rutter, Plater, Harris and Hutchinson completed the leader board.

Where the 2007 title was concerned, the HM Plant Honda riders had both had a disappointing event. Ryuichi Kiyonari scored sixteen points with a single sixth, with Jonathan Rea taking twenty for fifth and seventh. There is still a margin of 37, which means that Kiyo needs just one fourth place at Brands Hatch. Despite being taken out in race one, the Japanese rider still has plenty of reason for optimism, then.

However, the day belonged to Leon Haslam and the Airwaves Ducati, and a great double brought him to within four points of Rea. Leon can still win it, but a sixth or better from Kiyo will end his hopes. More realistically, the Englishman could get second overall, despite being back in fifth in the early part of the season. Leon made it 50 British Superbike wins for the GSE Racing outfit, the first of which was scored back in 1997.

Tom Sykes had easily his best weekend of the season, with a new best result of second, which he managed twice. He squarely beat the likes of Byrne, Lavilla, Rea, Kiyonari and Walker, and the results for the day took Honda onto 50 podium results for the season. This is the best by any make in the series since 2002, when Ducati were the dominant manufacturer. But will it be Honda or Ducati on top at the final 2007 meeting in Brands Hatch?

Standings after twenty-four races: Kiyonari 404; Rea 367; Haslam 363; Lavilla 318; Byrne 283; Sykes 270; Walker 206; Camier 199; Hill 135; Crutchlow 125; Harris 113; Rutter 104.

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