However, Hopkins was making swift progress back up the order, benefitting from additional problems for Michael Rutter, Martin Jessopp, Peter Hickman, Steve Mercer and Barry Burrell to find himself on the fringe of the points by lap ten of twenty.
Creeping into the top fifteen, Hopkins's progress was simultaneous to Hill apparently struggling with his Yamaha, the seven-time race winner slipping into the clutches of a charging James Ellison.
As expected, Hopkins passed those directly ahead of him to reach his eventual finishing position of 12th place, four points that meant – should Hill stay third -, just one point would split them into the final race, in Hill's favour.
However, Ellison was applying significant pressure to Hill, pulling alongside on several occasions, even if the former BSB runner-up would admit that his rival's title position meant he would remain fairly cautious in his attempts to pass.
Nonetheless, with SMT Honda's first-ever BSB podium in sight, Ellison finally pulled ahead on the final lap, demoting Hill to fourth, meaning Hopkins actually heads into the final race with a lead of two points.
Up ahead, Byrne came across the finish line to take his fifth victory of the season, just ahead of Kirkham, who did his best to overhaul the Honda rider, eventually settling for his third podium of the year.
Ellison was third for SMT Honda's breakthrough result, ahead of a frustrated Hill, while Chris Walker notched up his best result for Pr1mo Kawasaki in a fairly lonely fifth place.
Graeme Gowland was the EVO winner once again with a strong sixth place finish overall, ahead of Tommy Bridewell and James Westmoreland, the latter scoring a good result on the 2012-specification WFR Honda.
Dan Linfoot bounced back for ninth place on the Tyco Honda, while Karl Harris scored his first BSB points for Splitlath Aprilia with a measured ride to tenth place. Patric Muff was 11th, ahead of Hopkins, Scott Smart, a recovering Hickman and James Hillier.
Ahead of the final race, Byrne starts on pole position, ahead of Kirkham and Laverty, who returned to the circuit later in the race to set a 'qualifying' time. Crucially though, Hopkins starts in fourth place, compared with Hill in sixth ensuring he has the minor upper hand into the final race of the 2011 season.