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Kirkham beats Hopkins for maiden victory

15 May 2011

Jon Kirkham has won his first MCE British Superbike Championship race after being rewarded for a determined charge from 16th on the grid in slippery conditions at Croft.

A dramatic race defined by changeable weather conditions creating a lottery on tyres initially, those who gambled on slick tyres would ultimately move to the front as the race progressed and the circuit completely dried.

Kirkham's surge from the mid-field was aided by a mid-race safety car period, deployed after Shane Byrne's HM Plant Honda blew and deposited oil along the start-finish straight.

Up to that point, the pole sitter had commanded a comfortable advantage over the chasing pack, led by John Hopkins, who made strong gains early on after a good start from ninth, and Gary Mason, the MSS Colchester Kawasaki rider putting in his most convincing performance yet on the ZX-10R. Michael Rutter had also been amongst the leaders but was forced to pit when his Rapid-Bathams Ducati encountered a problem.

Indeed, the early running order bore little relation to the grid as the likes of Michael Laverty and Tommy Hill plummeted down the order having erroneously fitted wet weather tyres.

However, Byrne's retirement and the subsequent safety car period served to bunch the group up, allowing Kirkham – who had pushed his way up to third place by this point having finished the first lap in 15th – to close the eight second gap.

It was a gift he didn't spoil when he immediately got the hammer down at the restart and snatched second place from Mason, before pulling a brave move on Samsung Crescent Suzuki team-mate Hopkins shortly afterwards.

As the lead group, which also included the plucky Alex Lowes on the EVO-spec WFR Honda, broke away from the pack, Kirkham was working hard to keep Hopkins at bay as the prospect of his maiden BSB victory loomed. Indeed, Hopkins did find a way back past Kirkham at one stage, only to run wide at Tower and give him the position back.

It would prove to be Hopkins's last bid for victory, the Oulton Park winner making a small error that would ultimately prompt him to settle for second position.

The fifth different winner in five races, Kirkham will also start the second race from pole position after scoring the fastest lap on the final revolution.

Byrne's retirement, meanwhile, means Hopkins is now leading the BSB standings by six points.

Mason completed his first podium result for MSS Colchester Kawasaki, a crucial result for the former BSB Cup winner having struggled to make an impression aboard the ZX-10R so far this year.

Loris Baz was a distant fourth, the Frenchman another to benefit from the safety car after an awful start from third on the grid left him as low as 17th position at one stage, while Lowes held on for an excellent fifth place finish and another EVO victory – his fourth from five races.

Stuart Easton completed a good race for Kawasaki in sixth position, ahead of Peter Hickman, scoring his best BSB finish in seventh, Josh Brookes in eighth, Glen Richards in ninth and Tommy Bridewell in tenth position.

Further back, Hudson Kennaugh scored Splitlath Aprilia's first points of the year in a fine 11th, ahead of James Westmoreland and Buildbase BMW duo John Laverty and Ian Lowry.

Hill, meanwhile, soldiered on to score a solitary point in 15th position, the Swan Yamaha rider faring better than Laverty, who pulled into the pit lane before returning to the circuit a lap down.

Having struggled for speed all weekend, Ryuichi Kiyonari endured a similarly dismal race, dropping from 14th to as low as 25th at one point before eventually pitting.


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