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Byrne snatches series lead after Hill woe

23 September 2012

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Shane Byrne shrugged off the effects of his recent shoulder surgery to claim a convincing victory at Assen, a win that also lifts him to the head of the overall standings at the expense of the unfortunate Tommy Hill.

The first of seven races that will decide the outcome of the 2012 British Superbike Championship, Hill began the day with a ten point lead over Josh Brookes and 12 points ahead of Byrne, but always stood to lose his advantage when he was involved in a bizarre pre-race accident.

The Swan Yamaha rider was completing his sighting lap, but as he made his way through the packed grid to take his fourth place starting position, a mechanic from another team stepped in his path and caught the brake lever.

Sending him off the bike, despite the low-speed nature of the accident, the impact has damaged the Yamaha just minutes before the race, preventing him from taking the start.

With Hill out of the reckoning, his five title rivals sensed an opportunity to capitalise and it was Michael Laverty who took the early advantage as he led into turn one, ahead of Byrne, Brookes and Jakub Smrz, the Czech rider getting his first BSB race underway with a good start.

Wasting no time in stamping his mark on proceedings, Byrne dived ahead of Laverty for the lead on the second lap, while Brookes, the fast-starting Stuart Easton, Tommy Bridewell and Alex Lowes, who got a poor start from pole position, followed in close contention.

As is typical of the iconic Dutch circuit, there was little to separate the front runners as they tackled the opening laps, though Brookes did give himself work to do when a slight error briefly allowed Easton and Bridewell ahead of him.

However, while Byrne did attempt to make a break, he was swiftly reeled back in by Laverty, who duly carried his momentum through into the lead on lap eight.

Despite this, Byrne stayed close to the Honda's tail and, as he began to come under pressure from Brookes and Lowes – the duo having dropped the chasers after progressing to third and fourth -, he struck back into the lead on lap ten.

It would prove the decisive moment of the race, Byrne beginning to sprint away from Laverty, whose staunch defence of second place began to lose him time on the Kawasaki ahead of him.

In the end it was Lowes who would break through ahead of his Honda counterpart, the WFR Honda rider popping ahead of Brookes before striding past Laverty on lap twelve. Brookes eventually got by Laverty on lap 13 and immediately began to catch Lowes before scything past with three laps remaining into second place.

It was too late to do anything about Byrne, however, the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki rider easing across the finish line to win by almost five seconds. With Hill unable to score, it means Byrne has assumed the lead of the overall standings on 548 points, though Brookes in second place is just three points behind on 545. Hill, meanwhile, remains on 535 points, though his decision to return to the circuit for a handful of laps after the start allowed him to set the fastest lap, earning him pole position for race two.

Behind Lowes, who completed only his second career BSB podium in third, Luca Scassa prevailed in an entertaining tussle for fourth place that went down to the wire.

His best BSB result yet, the Italian was running sixth on the penultimate lap when Noriyuki Haga's aggressive pass on Laverty served to delay both of them, allowing the Padgetts Honda rider through. Haga held on for fifth, while Bridewell got the better of an ailing Laverty on the final lap to claim sixth place.

James Westmoreland crossed the line eighth, ahead of Easton, who lost time with a run across the gravel trap at the final corner on lap seven, while Robbin Harms gave Doodson Honda a welcome top ten finish with an impressive run to tenth.

Rounding out the points, Patric Muff, Barry Burrell, Jon Kirkham, Ian Lowry and Chris Walker completed the top fifteen.

As well as Hill, there was disappointment for BSB debutant Smrz after he was forced to retire from eighth position when the engine let go on his Splitlath Redmond Aprilia.


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