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Shane Byrne has taken a potentially crucial step towards a third MCE British Superbike Championship title after completing a convincing victory in a truncated first race at Brands Hatch.
The Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki rider led from start-to-finish after getting the edge on pole man Alex Lowes through Paddock Hill Bend and steadily maintaining a comfortable advantage over the competition until the race was stopped three laps early because of rain.
However, the stoppage would come just moments too late for Lowes, who looked set for a fifth consecutive podium finish in second place – one that would have kept him in title contention – when he skidded off at Clark in the worsening conditions.
A cruel end to a race that had seen Lowes shrug off the early attentions of Michael Laverty to pose the only convincing threat to Byrne, the costly DNF has all but ended Lowes's burgeoning title dreams.
With Lowes crashing out and Laverty finishing down in tenth place after an error at Surtees saw him run off the track, reigning champion Tommy Hill picked up second place for his first podium of the 2012 Showdown. Even so, the result may have come too late for the Swan Yamaha rider as he remains on the cusp of ceding his BSB crown.
Indeed, though Lowes and Hill, who has ascended back to third place overall with his podium, remain mathematically in with a shout of the title, their respective 49 and 47 point deficits leave them with a lot to do with just two races remaining.
As such, Brookes is now arguably Byrne's only convincing rival for the title, the Australian dropping 18 points behind Byrne in the standings after following Hill home in third position having run as low as sixth at one stage.
Indeed, Byrne got a helping hand in the form of team-mate Stuart Easton, who successfully managed to hold Hill and Brookes at bay for a significant portion of the race, allowing Byrne to break away.
The Scot would eventually slip to fifth place, with James Westmoreland snatching fourth place – his best result at BSB level and one that puts him well on course for seventh overall and the 'BSB Cup'.
Also celebrating his best result in BSB, front row starter Barry Burrell shrugged off an awful getaway that dropped him to 11th to work his way back up to sixth position. The result is also the best yet for Buildbase since it switched to BMW machinery.
Battling with a finger injury, Tommy Bridewell worked his way up to seventh position, ahead of Noriyuki Haga, Jon Kirkham and the recovering Laverty, while Patric Muff, Karl Harris, Michael Rutter, Mark Aitchison and Jakub Smrz completed the points' in 11th to 15th.