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Gregorio Lavilla makes it six BSB wins from eight

Raceline Photography

By Dan Moakes
May 7 2006

Gregorio Lavilla was already holding a 36 point advantage, after only six races of British Superbike competition, and the question was whether Oulton Park’s fourth round would allow the opposition to come back at him. In particular, Honda had some points to prove, but they weren’t alone.

May Day Bank Holiday weekend saw the challenging Cheshire circuit play host to the series, and the fast but narrow and undulating track didn’t favour any particular bike. Or not really, if you judged by the way they qualified. The two Airwaves Ducati machines, of Lavilla and Leon Haslam, were again on the front row of the grid, its true, but they were joined there by a Honda and a Suzuki. These two Japanese marques were also represented on row two, along with the first Kawasaki, and a Yamaha led the way on the third rank.

Haslam was on pole position for the fifth time in the series, and the second consecutively this year, with Lavilla third, as he had been at Thruxton. The two 999 F06 machines were split by the HM Plant Honda of 26-year-old Karl Harris, despite the odd injury picked up in practice. Team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari was in an unexpected 13th position, and this made him the sixth of the Honda runners. Behind Lavilla were the two Rizla Suzukis of James Haydon and Shane Byrne, and ‘Shakey’ was really quite ill with some kind of stomach complaint, and not certain to race.

The remainder of row two was filled by the Hondas of Michael Rutter (for Stobart) and Jonathan Rea (for Red Bull), ahead of Dean Thomas on the first Hawk Kawasaki. Tommy Hill’s Virgin Yamaha then led the Hydrex Honda pair of Glen Richards and Gary Mason, split by eleventh placed lead privateer James Buckingham. More Hawk and Stobart machines joined ‘Kiyo’ on row four, but missing from the line-up was Sean Emmett, with the Ipone Kawasaki team struggling for funds.

Byrne managed to take the start, and was actually into third as race one got going, behind Haslam and Haydon. Harris got pushed out onto the grass by Rea as the field barrelled down to Old Hall Corner, the right-handed first turn, so that Lavilla was fourth, from Thomas, Richards, Laverty and Rutter. Rea kept going in ninth, with Hill, Buckingham, Kiyonari, Ben Wilson, Scott Smart and Craig Coxhell behind, and Harris rejoining way down the pack.

Haslam was setting quick lap times as he stole away from the rest to begin with, and team-mate Lavilla looked keen to get after him. The Spaniard went inside Byrne for the right-hand banked Shell Oils hairpin on lap two, to move into third, and he did the same thing to Haydon next time around and seemed likely to get clear. Even in these early stages, the Airwaves Ducati and Rizla Suzuki men were looking too quick for Thomas and the rest, who would reconfigure with Rutter leading Richards, Hill, Laverty and Rea.

The race for second was on, as Byrne took over behind Lavilla, passing partner Haydon on the inside at the right-handed final Lodge corner. Shane then set a new fastest lap as he chased the champion, with James starting to lose touch. By half-distance, Lavilla had reduced Haslam’s lead, and brought Byrne with him, before Haydon also caught up again. It became a four-man group, with the remarkable Byrne presumably fuelled by adrenaline to run so well in his weakened condition.

It was perhaps inevitable that Lavilla should move into the lead, and he did so in a spectacular move at Lodge, sliding the rear on the inside of his team-mate on the brakes. Haslam had to go wider than the usual line, and this allowed Byrne to go past as well, where he continued to harry Lavilla. Dramatically, the 2003 champion went on to take the lead at Cascades, running a tighter line through the left-hander at the foot of the drop from Old Hall.

Before long, Haydon was dropping away again, and then the same thing happened to Haslam, as they got into a race for third. James would have a go at Lodge, only for Leon to come back on the way out of the corner. Meanwhile, Lavilla had regained the lead, with the inside line at the exit of Shell Oils. He went on to eke a minor advantage over Byrne, with Haslam now closer in third as the four leaders crossed the finish line in the same order, Haydon not out of touch.

There had been plenty of racing to decide fifth at the flag, with the rapid Harris able to get up into the second group in fairly short order. Karl had already disposed of Smart, Wilson, Kiyonari, Buckingham, Rea and Laverty, and joined a five man pack behind Thomas, Rutter, Richards and Hill. Richards had already fallen to the tail of this gaggle when Harris passed Thomas for seventh at Lodge, to tag on behind Rutter and Hill. The Australian duo would then lose touch, as the pursuing pair of Ulsterman came back into the equation.

Harris had surged forward to take fifth, but by the time Byrne led he was nine seconds from the man ahead. Nevertheless, he was clear of the others before the end, and it looked like a tale of what might have been. Behind, Rutter went backwards as Rea came on strong again, but the other big mover was Kiyo. Perhaps spurred on by his team-mate’s progress, Ryuichi emerged for sixth, from Hill, Rea and Rutter. Richards, Laverty, Thomas, Smart, Wilson and Jon Kirkham were the other scorers.

Race two was another dry one, but under duller skies than the earlier action. This time it was Haslam, rather than Harris, to be involved in the drama and therefore with work to do. Leon had stalled his Ducati on the warm-up lap, and so had to start from the pit lane. Byrne led the way as they surged forward, from Rutter, Harris, Lavilla, then Hill and Rea. Shakey was only in front as far as Lakeside, the fast run into Island Bend and the braking zone for Shell Oils. Rutter took over at that point, while behind an incident between Haydon and Thomas put the latter out, and seriously delayed the former.

Rea overtook Hill at Lodge as lap one ended, and then Harris got by Byrne on the inside at Old Hall, followed through by Lavilla. Karl’s next target was HM Plant predecessor Rutter, whom he passed at Lodge, but Michael took the lead back at Old Hall, with Lavilla again capitalising to also get by Harris. It was evolving with four men setting the pace once again, this time Rutter, Lavilla, Harris and Byrne. Rea was establishing a relatively solitary fifth, with Hill, Laverty, Kiyonari, Richards, Kirkham, Smart, Wilson, Coxhell, Mason and Buckingham all heading Haslam.

Lavilla took over the lead from Rutter with a move at Hizzy’s chicane, and then proceeded to pull away. Harris emerged as the man to chase him, passing Rutter going out of Clay Hill and on the way down to Hizzy’s. Karl improved on the lap record as he moved in on the Ducati rider, leaving Rutter and Byrne to race for third, to be joined by Rea and Kiyonari. More moves took place at Hizzy’s, with Byrne taking Rutter there, and then Kiyo doing the same to Rea.

Lavilla and Harris set the pace as they raced on for victory. With two laps remaining they were still together, with Karl looking to go on the attack. He made it happen at Old Hall for the final time, going through on the inside but then running wide to let Gregorio resume ahead. They were still virtually tied as the lap progressed, and the obvious opportunity for the Yorkshireman was going to be at Lodge. Again he went for the inside, and again it took him wide, with Lavilla going tighter onto the rise of Deer Leap to keep the advantage to the line.

Rea had re-taken Kiyonari, then got by Rutter at Lodge to get into a big battle with Byrne for third, which would get quite busy towards the end. The threat to Rutter from Kiyonari was reduced when the Japanese rider out-braked himself and missed out the Foulstons chicane, down the slope from Hill Top. Kiyo weaved his way through the barriers on the escape road to rejoin without loss of position. He then found the pace to catch and pass Rutter before the finish.

The Byrne-Rea tussle got a bit messy on the final lap, again at Foulstons. Rea was on the outside for the right-hand turn in, and leant on his rival in an attempt to go ahead. Byrne’s left elbow went out in reply, and the Honda rider was forced to run straight on. Rather than follow Kiyo’s earlier route, he cut straight across the grass to regain the circuit in front of Shakey, who had navigated the chicane in full. Jonathan’s third place finish, his first to date, would be under investigation - and indeed he was given the heavier penalty of the two, such that Byrne was awarded the third place in the end.

Haslam’s progress had been enough to see him past Buckingham, Coxhell, Mason, Smart, Wilson, Kirkham, Laverty and Richards, then get the better of Hill in the race for seventh. He did not get as far as demoting Rutter or Kiyonari by the finish. The order of the other points men behind Hill and Richards shuffled to give tenth to Wilson, from Laverty, Kirkham, Smart, Mason and Coxhell, whilst Haydon only got back as far as P17.

Once again it had been an impressive day’s work for Gregorio Lavilla, and yet again his nearest title rivals had fairly seriously mixed fortunes. Karl Harris had been particularly quick, at the circuit where he’d taken his best 2005 results, and had come closer to a British Superbike win than ever before. With Ryuichi Kiyonari somewhat off the boil, and Leon Haslam another to end up with split results, the other plaudits had to go to the debilitated Shane Byrne. In the circumstances, second and third places were outstanding, and James Haydon’s first outing backed up a good showing by Rizla Suzuki - who took their first podium results of the season. Jonathan Rea’s form also netted his best finish, for a time at least, but Honda in general will be looking for more next time out.

Standings after eight races: Lavilla 182; Haslam 121; Kiyonari 108; Harris 88; Byrne 81; Rea 75; Rutter 61; Laverty and Hill 52; Smart 50; Thomas 44; Richards 40; Haydon and Mason 29.

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