By Edward Kelly

The first round of the 2012 MCE British Superbike season was held this Easter Weekend at the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit. And at this time of the year, weather was always destined to play a major role in proceedings.

In the early free practice sessions, WSBK legend and BSB rookie Noriyuki Haga was obviously struggling with the set-up of his Swan Yamaha. His body language reflected discomfort, although this also may just have been down to the cold, damp conditions.

The Ducati 1199 Panigale's of Moto Rapido Racing and Jentin Doodson Motorsport, forced to run non factory fitted Motec electronics systems due to BSB control rules, were also struggling throughout the early sessions.

Alex Polita was visibly unhappy when his Panigale suffered a siezed gear box very early on during the day, with no relevant spare parts immediately available in the Jentin Doodson garage.

One of the Moto Rapido machines enjoyed a fire extinguisher encounter, after entering pitlane with flames flickering from its exhaust. Florian Marino was the only new international recruit to even sneak into the top ten after three Free Practice sessions.

British Superbike qualifying sessions are held in a shootout format, similar to World Superbikes and Formula 1.

Each part of qualifying was most notable for those that didn't make it through, and thus found themselves well down the grid. Reigning champion Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha), could do no better than twenty-ninth quickest, going out in the first round. Michael Laverty (Samsung Honda) and Alex Lowes (Team WFR) also failed to progress. Luca Scassa (Padgetts Racing) did squeek into the top ten at the end of the three sessions.

Tristan Palmer (GBmoto Racing), stepping up from National Superstock 1000, surprised many by securing a front row start with the fourth quickest time. This is also GBmoto Racing's first BSB season.

Tommy Bridewell (Supersonic Racing), recruited at the very last minute to replace the Moto2 departing Anthony West, also rode very well on an unfamiliar machine to start from seventh on the grid. Haga did enough to finish sixth, not quite living up to his star billing.

Race day was cold and wet, two conditions always likely to result in a motorcycle racing crash fest, especially at the opening round of the season after five months of riders' champing at the bit.

The race had not even begun before Jenny Tinmouth threw her Honda at the tyre barrier during the sighting lap. When the lights went out for race one, Haga almost lost it immediately. Perhaps unused to the lack of traction control, another 2012 BSB control rule, his machine flicked dangerously sideways off the start line, badly losing momentum.

Without even the first lap completed, the Pace Car was on track. Tommy Hill, Michael Laverty, Florian Marino, Patrick Muff and Graeme Gowland (Team WFR) all enjoyed an early hot shower.

Back under full race conditions, riders continued to slide along the tarmac, with Palmer, Scassa and Linfoot (Buildbase BMW Motorrad) failing to complete. It was under the second safety car stint that Binladen highsided while trying to catch up the tail of the train.

Finally after 30 laps, Jon Kirkham (Samsung Honda) snuck underneath Alistair Seeley (Tyco Suzuki) in the final corner to take the race win. Michael Rutter (MSS Bathams Kawasaki) completed the podium positions, followed by Ian Lowry ( Padgetts Racing), Gary Mason (Quattro Plant Kawasaki), Bridewell and ex-MotoGP rider Shane Byrne (Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki) back in seventh.

Alex Polita did very well, not only staying upright but also bringing his Panigale home in eleventh. Scott Smart (Moto Rapido Racing) also scored points with another Ducati 1199, crossing the line in fourteenth, with Haga just one place ahead. A lowly total of 21 riders completed the full race distance, from a starting grid of 32 machines.

Between the first and second BSB races, there were a number of support classes. As the afternoon wore on, the track conditions deteriorated with more and more riders finding themselves with an expensive repair bill. Motorsport Vision Racing (MSVR) race director, Stuart Higgs, allocated a further 8 minute practice session to the superbike riders, but ultimately made a decision in the light of rider safety to abandon the meeting. The cancelled race will now be re-scheduled at a future round.

British Superbikes 2012 is certainly shaping up to be nothing if not interesting. Several title contenders scored no points from this opening round (Hill, Haga, M. Laverty), while the Ducati Panigales perhaps flattered to deceive.

Can the upstarts GBmoto Racing and Tristan Palmer continue to impress, or was this first outing something of a fluke? Will Jenny Tinmouth and Abdulaziz Binladen be anything other than perennial backmarkers?

At least some more insight will be found in just one week's time when the circus moves to Thruxton circuit for Round 2 on April 13-15.