Leon Haslam finally brought the run of success being enjoyed by the HM Plant Honda team to an end in race two of the Bennett's British Superbike meeting at Oulton Park - but the youngster had, in part, to thank the weather for his victory.
After a mid-afternoon downpour that saw the supporting R6 Cup race halted ahead of schedule, the superbike event got underway in wet conditions, but with the threat that the track may dry well before the chequered flag. Race one winner Michael Rutter leapt out to an early lead, pursued by Karl Harris, but Haslam was the man on the move as the conditions changed for the better.
Having disposed of inspired Rizla Suzuki reserve James Haydon, Haslam swiftly closed on and passed both Harris and Rutter, easing out into a lead he would never lose - despite the best efforts of those in pursuit.
There were several moments during the race when the frontrunners almost crashed, with Harris touching the kerbs through the chicane and running straight onto the grass, handing second place back to Rutter and third to Haydon. The Supersport champion battled back, however, and was able to regain his podium place before the final lap.
Ahead of him, Rutter was gallantly chasing Haslam down, his Michelin tyres having finally found conditions where they could rechallenge the Dunlops. The HM Plant bike closed right in on Haslam's Airwaves Ducati at the chicane, and Rutter tried to put a move on the WSBK refugee around the outside at Druids. Haslam, however, held his line and bumped Rutter, who almost ran onto the grass but just managed to hold onto his machine. Once recovered - and still in second place - Rutter could only give vain chase and followed Haslam over the line.
Haydon came home in fourth place after having been third for a large part of the race, again out-performing ailing team-mate Scott Smart, who had a bad day at the office with his rear tyre and had to retire on the penultimate lap.
Young French rider Julian da Costa had been a retirement in race one, but kept his nerve, his head and his tyres intact to bring the MSS Kawasaki home in fifth spot. That put him ahead of the Hawk Kawasaki of Glen Richards, the Australian unable to repeat his front-running performance from race one, and had to settle for sixth. It could have been worse, however - team-mate Dean Thomas finished only 15th after taking a gamble on his tyre choice. Most riders ran full wets, but Thomas opted for a
wet front and intermediate rear - and it cost him.
Jonathan Rea put in another strong performance for a young rider, bringing his Red Bull Honda home in ninth, ahead of fellow Ulsterman Michael Laverty's Stobart Honda. Gregorio Lavilla on the other Airwaves Ducati finished in 16th place, his lowest finish so far this season, after another failed tyre gamble.
Malcolm Ashley took Superbike Cup honours, crossing the line fractionally ahead of Marty Nutt, with race one 'winner' James Buckingham third in class.
Despite not being able to maintain his team's 100 per cent record in the absence of injured team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari, Rutter still left Oulton with his championship lead intact. The Honda man now has 164 points, to lie ahead of Lavilla, with 108, and Richards, in third with 104.