Leon Haslam took a step closer to lifting his first British superbike title yesterday, outscoring the opposition and taking two more podium trophies to extend his lead to 32 points with just one three race round remaining.
The Carole Nash backed star had taken a 22 point advantage to the Assen race, the only round of the championship to take place outside of the UK, and stole an advantage over his rivals by securing a front row start in Saturday’s wet qualifying as his rivals floundered towards the back of the grid.
While the weather cleared up for Sunday’s races, Haslam remained equally competitive. Race one saw pole position man James Ellison lead the opening laps on his Yamaha, with Haslam holding a watching brief on the JG Speedfit Kawasaki. Main title rival Shane Byrne was able to fight through from 16th on the grid to join the leading group, but it was Haslam who best judged his pace and managed his bike’s tyre wear, taking the win by almost two seconds at the flag from Byrne’s Ducati and Ellison.
With grid positions for race two determined by lap times from race one, Byrne and fellow title contender Josh Brookes were able to mix it from the very beginning. The 22-lap race proved to be a real thriller, with former world superbike champion Sylvain Guintoli making a late charge to take a surprise win, Suzuki’s first with the new GSX-R1000, with Brookes holding off Haslam for third. Leon’s first and third saw him take 41 points from the Dutch track, with Brookes and Byrne each scoring 10 less, both taking a second and fifth place. With 75 points available across three races at Brands Hatch next weekend, all three riders remain in mathematical contention, however Haslam goes to the Kent track with the luxury of more than a full race win advantage.
He said: “I have to keep reminding myself of the championship; it is always a battle you want to win in every race and you want to make moves you probably shouldn’t when you are trying to win a championship. It worked out well for the championship today; I was a bit disappointed after the last lap of race two, I was in a good rhythm at the end and I had a bit of an issue with the engine cutting out, but it has been a great weekend for JG Speedfit Kawasaki.
“This championship is so tough and we definitely had a hard part of the season but the showdown is where it matters and we have three races now at Brands Hatch to try and do the same job.”
Five time champ Byrne was understandably disappointed with the result but having seen many championships take dramatic endings at an often wet and unpredictable final round, he remained philosophical, adding: “We were able to take a lot of positives out of the first race and to come through from 16th on the grid to second was pleasing. The one person I’m focused on at the moment is Leon as he’s leading the championship so getting involved with riders not part of the Showdown made life difficult. I should have been really happy with second place but the reality was I still didn’t beat Leon. Starting race two from pole made my life easier although I knew it would still be tough but I gave myself the best possible chance by leading for the majority of the race. The pace dropped when James (Ellison) passed me and I tried to fight back but made a mistake and dropped back to fifth so all I can do is go to Brands Hatch and do my very best. If that gets us the championship, then great, if it doesn’t, no-one can say I didn’t try.”
Byrne’s view was echoed by Brookes, the 2015 champion, who said: “It was hard fought, certainly earlier in the race I felt I was giving everything I and the bike had and it didn’t seem to be enough to move forward.
“I was like a paying spectator, I had to watch the guys ahead in a battle but fortunately towards the end of the race the tyre was still working good, and the character of me and the bike seems to work stronger at the end than it does at the beginning, so I started to become more of a player at the end of the race.
“Everybody’s desire to win was causing extreme moves and passes that slowed the race up, and that meant it put me in the perfect position to make passes. It wasn’t a win today but it almost feels like it, every point for me is extremely valuable. I would have liked to have been more consistent in the showdown, but we’re not down and out, anything can happen yet so maybe these points are the most vital of the championship yet.”
The championship will be decided at Brands Hatch over the weekend of 14-15 October.