British superbike champion Shane Byrne finally kickstarted his title defence with a win and a second place at Oulton Park yesterday, as main title rival Leon Haslam was fortunate to escape serious injury in a horrific freak accident in race two.
Haslam, who travelled to the Cheshire circuit leading the championship with a 100% podium record, had pulled away in the closing stages of the day’s opening race to extend his title lead, while Byrne recorded his first podium finish of the year in second.
Having struggled for grip in the opening 18-lap race, Byrne’s Paul Bird-run Ducati squad made some small changes to his bike, while the 41-year-old five-time champ also adjusted his riding style. The result was vintage Byrne, with the Londoner taking the lead on lap six and pulling away to get his title aspirations back on track after a disappointing start to the season that had seen him miss the first round and score a solitary fourth last time out.
Behind him early race leader James Ellison and Haslam battled it out for the lower podium slots, but disaster struck towards the end of lap 14, when Ellison’s Yamaha suddenly lost power. With nowhere to go, Haslam ran straight into the back of his rival – his Kawasaki destructively cartwheeling over the track barriers while the rider ragdolled down the verge. Despite the ferocity of the crash, Leon escaped without serious injury and remains the championship leader after Oulton Park despite his failure to score further points.
Making it a good day for Byrne’s Paul Bird Motorsport squad, the team’s Glenn Irwin scored his first podium in the class in second, with Jason O’Halloran third on the new Honda Fireblade.
Speaking after the race, Byrne said: “I was very conscious of having hardly any points and no podium credits coming into this weekend and although Leon was setting a very good pace, for two thirds of the first race I was happy to sit with him. In the end, it was getting a bit hairy and I really needed the points so settled for second. If I’d have pushed any harder, I’d have been upside down! We made a few changes to the bike in between races and I changed my line going into Hizzy’s and everything finally came together. I thought the tyres might drop off towards the end and it took me a while to work out what had happened to Leon and James when my lead shot up but once I had, I was able to bring the bike home. We’ve had the speed the whole time and have just been unlucky so, hopefully, all of our bad luck is behind us now and we can start winning more races and claw back the podium credits.”
The British Superbike Championship now takes its traditional early summer break while the Isle of Man TT takes place. Action resumes at Scotland’s Knockhill circuit on the weekend of 16-18 June.