Two points split Hopkins, Hill into final race
9 October 2011
The 2011 MCE British Superbike Championship will be decided in the final race of the season after a dramatic turnaround saw John Hopkins have his lead reduced to just two points by Tommy Hill
Hopkins went into the race with an 11 point cushion over Hill, but saw it all but wiped out when he slowed with an apparent electric glitch on lap one. Pulling off the circuit, Hopkins switched everything off and back on again, to get going at the back of the field, albeit almost a minute off the leaders.
However, a high attrition rate, coupled to a marvellous fight back ride would see Hopkins get back up to 12th place, scoring a crucial four points, while Hill had to settle for fourth position after fading in the latter stages and losing third to James Ellison on the final lap.
Even so, fourth place for Hill is still enough for him to reduce the gap to a very manageable two points with just one race remaining. Should the two finish on the same points, Hill would win due to his greater number of race wins this season.
The race itself, held in difficult conditions after an earlier shower left damp patches on an otherwise dry circuit, was won by Shane Byrne, but the real story of the race was occurring behind him as Hopkins and Hill played the mathematical game to work out who would take the advantage with one round to go.
Indeed, the pendulum looked to be swinging very much in Hill's favour when Hopkins, having gotten a fairly bad start to run seventh, pulled off the circuit and coasted to a stop. With a poorly-timed DNF looming, Hopkins shut the bike down and restarted it, fortunately getting the Suzuki going again to rejoin the track. Even so, he remained well outside the points, while Hill was up at the front.
Furthermore, Hill's cause was aided further when race one winner Michael Laverty, who snatched the lead from Byrne with a bold move around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend on lap two, crashed out at Druids after running slightly wide and touching a damp patch. Just a lap later, Josh Brookes followed suit by falling at Paddock Hill Bend, the Australian's bike catapulting through the gravel trap in an accident akin to the one that afflicted him at the start of the year.
As such, Byrne now led from Hill, though Hopkins's team-mate Jon Kirkham was doing his bit to ensure he made things difficult by snatching second on lap four.
With Kirkham making good headway into Byrne, Hill attempted to stay with the Suzuki rider, but instead found himself in a fairly lonely third, knowing his 16 points would overhaul Hopkins should he non-score.
However, Hopkins was making swift progress back up the order, benefitting from additional problems for Michael Rutter, Martin Jessopp, Peter Hickman, Steve Mercer and Barry Burrell to find himself on the fringe of the points by lap ten of twenty.
Creeping into the top fifteen, Hopkins's progress was simultaneous to Hill apparently struggling with his Yamaha, the seven-time race winner slipping into the clutches of a charging James Ellison.
As expected, Hopkins passed those directly ahead of him to reach his eventual finishing position of 12th place, four points that meant – should Hill stay third -, just one point would split them into the final race, in Hill's favour.
However, Ellison was applying significant pressure to Hill, pulling alongside on several occasions, even if the former BSB runner-up would admit that his rival's title position meant he would remain fairly cautious in his attempts to pass.
Nonetheless, with SMT Honda's first-ever BSB podium in sight, Ellison finally pulled ahead on the final lap, demoting Hill to fourth, meaning Hopkins actually heads into the final race with a lead of two points.
Up ahead, Byrne came across the finish line to take his fifth victory of the season, just ahead of Kirkham, who did his best to overhaul the Honda rider, eventually settling for his third podium of the year.
Ellison was third for SMT Honda's breakthrough result, ahead of a frustrated Hill, while Chris Walker notched up his best result for Pr1mo Kawasaki in a fairly lonely fifth place.
Graeme Gowland was the EVO winner once again with a strong sixth place finish overall, ahead of Tommy Bridewell and James Westmoreland, the latter scoring a good result on the 2012-specification WFR Honda.
Dan Linfoot bounced back for ninth place on the Tyco Honda, while Karl Harris scored his first BSB points for Splitlath Aprilia with a measured ride to tenth place. Patric Muff was 11th, ahead of Hopkins, Scott Smart, a recovering Hickman and James Hillier.
Ahead of the final race, Byrne starts on pole position, ahead of Kirkham and Laverty, who returned to the circuit later in the race to set a 'qualifying' time. Crucially though, Hopkins starts in fourth place, compared with Hill in sixth ensuring he has the minor upper hand into the final race of the 2011 season.