Ryuichi Kiyonari took one step closer to clinching the 2006 British Superbike crown in race one at Brands Hatch, stretching out an 18 point lead over Leon Haslam as defending champion Gregorio Lavilla saw his hopes of retaining his title in tatters.
At the lights, though, it was 'Shakey' Byrne who got the jump from fellow front row starter Johnny Rea, with pole-sitter Haslam down to third, Kiyonari up a place in fourth and Lavilla the biggest loser, slipping back to tenth. By the end of lap one the Spaniard would have recovered to eighth, but his problems at the start would prove to be symptomatic of a race that would all-but destroy his championship dreams.
Haslam and Kiyo had deposed Rea by the end of the opening tour, with Tommy Hill running fifth, Karl Harris sixth, Ben Wilson an impressive seventh and Michael Rutter – who had started the race on the front row of the grid – all the way down in tenth. The HM Plant Honda rider was the next man on the move, slicing past Hill to fifth, with Lavilla pulling off a similar manoeuvre on Wilson for seventh, but still a long way back on title rivals Haslam and Kiyonari.
Haslam stole the lead off Byrne on lap three, but his efforts were to come to nought as the race was red-flagged just seconds later due to the oncoming rain, allowing all the riders to change onto wet weather tyres but meaning the re-started order would be as at the beginning of the previous lap, with Byrne still in front and Haslam needing to do it all over again.
When the race got under way once more it was championship leader Lavilla who was the first to come unstuck, falling at Hawthorns. The Spaniard claimed he had been hit by Harris after getting out of it to avoid contact with a wayward Byrne, damaging his brake lever in the process, but whatever the cause the end result was the same and in that split second he effectively kissed his title dreams goodbye. Haslam led by almost a second by the time the lap was out, with Kiyonari second and Byrne down to third ahead of Harris, Hill and Billy McConnell, as Rea slipped back to ninth just behind Rutter.
As the conditions worsened, Michael Laverty was the next faller, at Druids the following lap, while up front Kiyo was determined not to let Haslam get away, inexorably closing down the gap that separated the pair of them and their frenetic all-out pace leaving the chasing pack behind.
Harris passed Byrne to take third in the battle for best-of-the-rest, with the flying Rutter – the only man capable of lapping close to the two leaders' pace – revelling in the conditions to move up to fifth, ahead of Hill and Rea.
Separate incidents for both Rea and Harris saw the former losing two laps and the latter out of the race at Druids with an accident on lap five of the re-started race. At the front, meanwhile, Kiyo was lining Haslam up for a move, just biding his time, while Rutter's charge seemed to have come to a standstill faced with the immovable object that was Byrne, but fortune would smile on the Stobart ace yet.
With just over half the race gone Kiyo was through, as Rutter also successfully made his move for third, only for the pair of them to lose their positions again the next time round. But the drama was far from over yet.