Jon Kirkham has opened his 2012 MCE British Superbike campaign in formidable fashion after capitalising on Alastair Seeley's last corner error to snatch victory at a slippery Brands Hatch.
The Samsung Honda rider held his nerve in an incredibly tentative 2012 season opener, which was defined by the wet and slippery conditions that eliminated several of the front runners and rewarded those most confident with their bike set-up.
Despite the treacherous conditions, Kirkham, who started second, established his intentions very early on as he went on the attack of initial race leader Shane Byrne, the Rapid Solictors Kawasaki rider holding station during a safety car period called to clear the opening lap wreckage of Florian Marino's Aprilia and Graeme Gowland's Honda at Paddock Hill Bend, as well as Michael Laverty's Honda and Patric Muff's BMW at Graham Hill Bend.
With the race back underway on lap five, Kirkham dipped beneath Byrne to assume the lead of the race for the first time on the sixth revolution, while reputed wet weather specialist Michael Rutter swiftly proceeded to make his own path past his Kawasaki counterpart on lap seven.
Behind them, Seeley had jostled his way from 13th on the grid to be fourth by lap ten, his progress aided by Tristan Palmer's fall on lap ten, the GBmoto rider crashing out of the position at Graham Hill Bend. Meanwhile, Seeley's Tyco Suzuki team-mate – and pole sitter – Josh Brookes held down fifth having chosen to adopt a fairly cautious approach in the early stages.
As a handful of riders began to regain their confidence on the slippery surface, Luca Scassa and Dan Linfoot found themselves making fine progress up the order, the latter up to an excellent seventh from 24th on the grid.
However, both riders would see their luck come to an end on lap twelve and fourteen respectively, with Linfoot's accident prompting the return of the safety car.
Bunching up the field as the race reached the half-way point, Kirkham continued to lead from Rutter, while Seeley and Brookes had managed to work their way past Byrne. Behind them, Ian Lowry, Tommy Bridewell, James Westmoreland, Freddy Foray and Noriyuki Haga completed the provisional top ten, the ex-WSBK star recovering from a horrendous getaway that saw him drop from sixth to 13th at the start.
With the race restarted on lap 19, Seeley proved to be the man on the move as he immediately slipped past Rutter for second on lap 20 and set about trying to relieve Kirkham of the lead.
It was a quest he completed on lap 22 when his quicker route around Paddock Hill Bend allowed him to out-brake the Honda into Druids.
With just eight laps until the chequered flag, Seeley immediately began to push as Kirkham found himself contending with the attentions of the ever-present Rutter. However, Kirkham refused to settle for second and, having shaken off Rutter, began to reapply the pressure to Seeley over the remaining laps.
Though his best efforts heading into the final revolution was limited to a feigned look at Paddock Hill Bend, Kirkham's pressure finally paid dividends when, as the leaders rounded the final corner at Clearways, the rear of Seeley's Suzuki broke away, lifting him briefly out of the seat and losing his momentum on the run to the finish line.
It was the only invitation Kirkham needed as he swept beneath the reigning British Supersport Champion to win the dash for the line in a scene reminiscent to Tommy Hill and John Hopkins's stunning title decider in 2011.
Marking his second career BSB win, and his first with Samsung Honda, Kirkham enjoys an early lead in the standings, ahead of Seeley, who was still able to hold onto second position, and Rutter.
Behind the podium winners, the battle for the remaining top ten positions remained fraught to the finish line, with Ian Lowry being rewarded for an error-free ride on his maiden Padgetts Honda outing to claim an excellent fourth, while Gary Mason rose to the head of a tight mid-field pack to finish in fifth for Quattro Plant Kawasaki.
Following his tremendous qualifying effort, Tommy Bridewell handed BMW its best-ever finish at BSB level with his run to sixth, the Supersonic Racing rider even getting the better of Byrne on the final lap in the process.
Despite a mistake late in the race, James Westmoreland recovered to eighth, ahead of the second Quattro Plant Kawasaki of Freddy Foray, while Brookes was left a disgruntled tenth after losing time by running off the circuit at Graham Hill Bend on lap 24.
Behind him, Alex Polita gave the Ducati 1199 Panigale a solid debut in 11th, ahead of Chris Walker, Haga – who lost time late on having run inside the top ten briefly -, Scott Smart and James Hillier.
As well as Laverty's accident, which was prompted when he high-sided out of Druids on the opening lap, reigning champion Tommy Hill endured a torrid race as he struggled to recover from his lowly 29th position on the grid.
Having made gains early on to 17th, Hill barely advanced beyond that position before eventually crashing out into retirement with three laps remaining, the Swan Yamaha rider beginning his 2012 BSB defence with zero points on the board.
Looking ahead to race two, Seeley's fastest lap hands him pole position, ahead of Kirkham, Brookes and Mason, while Lowry, Rutter, Westmoreland and Bridewell assume the row two spots. Hill, meanwhile, starts 19th, just behind Haga in 17th.CLICK HERE
to view the full first race results.