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Shane Byrne has begun the quest for a record-breaking fourth MCE British Superbike Championship title in formidable style by claiming victory in the opening race of the 2013 season at Brands Hatch.
The reigning champion faced competition from both Alex Lowes and Josh Brookes over the course of a dry 30 lap race, but would eventually come away as a fairly comfortable winner ahead of his anticipated title rivals.
Getting away well from pole position, Byrne headed Lowes, Brookes and a feisty Dan Linfoot during the opening revolutions, the GBmoto Honda rider getting a mighty start from tenth on the grid to run with the leaders initially.
However, there was less fortune for front row sitter James Ellison, who was wheeled off the grid before the warm-up lap due to a broken visor. Though he went on to to re-join the field in third, Ellison failed to adhere to regulations that stipulate he must start from the back of the grid, earning himself a ride-through penalty and putting him out of contention.
With Ellison down the order, Byrne held firm for the opening laps before allowing Brookes – now past Lowes – through into the lead to set the pace and string along a five-strong lead pack that also included Keith Farmer on the second of the Rapid Solicitors Kawasakis.
Indeed, the newcomer was certainly making his presence felt amongst the front runners as he battled his way past Linfoot and Lowes to get as high as third at one stage, before the latter reassumed the position on lap twelve.
By this stage Byrne was also beginning to renew his assault on Brookes and duly cruised past into Paddock Hill Bend at the start of lap fifteen, a move that was replicated by Lowes just a lap later.
With the top two beginning to drop a fading Brookes, Lowes stepped up his challenge to Byrne over the second-half of the race but would eventually concede defeat to his rival with five laps remaining and settle for second place.
As such, Byrne was able to pick up yet another win at Brands Hatch – his eighth victory in his last ten starts around the circuit -, kicking off his title defence for the Paul Bird Motorsports-run team in perfect fashion.
Lowes followed up in second place to get his Samsung Honda tenure off to a strong start, while Brookes rounded out the podium more than six seconds adrift.
Behind him, front row starter Jon Kirkham fought back from a poor getaway that left him down in tenth during the opening laps to battle his way up to fourth, passing Tommy Bridewell late on after the Bathams Honda rider himself made strong gains to finish fifth from 12th on the grid.
However, the race would end on a bitter note for Kirkham's Buildbase BMW team-mate James Westmoreland after he was involved in a tangle with Linfoot on the final lap of the race. Prompted as a fading Farmer fended off Linfoot on the exit of Druids, light contact would send Linfoot down into the path of Westmoreland, taking the latter off his bike too.
With Westmoreland's BMW appearing to connect with the hapless Linfoot himself, the GBmoto Honda rider is reported to have suffered a cracked pelvis and has been taken to hospital.
Their late exit from the race would see Farmer pick up sixth place, ahead of BSB veteran Chris Walker and Byrne's rival for a fourth BSB title Ryuichi Kiyonari, the Japanese rider battling back to eighth after finding himself out of the points in the early stages when he was forced to back off at the lights to avoid the slow-starting Ellison ahead of him.
American rookie PJ Jacobsen kicked off his Superbike career with a respectable ninth place, with Josh Waters marking his BSB debut with a solid tenth aboard the Milwaukee Yamaha.
Behind them, Robbin Harms picked up good points for Doodson Honda in 11th, ahead of Peter Hickman on the sole remaining GBmoto Honda, Padgetts Honda's Jakub Smrz, Moto Rapido Ducati's Matteo Baiocco and Howie Mainwaring, who gave MH Kawasaki a precious point in its debut race.
Though just missing out on the points after his ride-through penalty in 16th, Ellison will at least have the opportunity to make amends later in the day after setting the fastest lap to earn himself pole position for race two. He will be joined by Lowes, Byrne and Karl Harris on the front row, the latter also hoping for better luck after failing to finish the first race on his PR Kawasaki.