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Tom Sykes has taken a potentially critical step towards the 2013 World Superbike Championship title after prevailing over his main rivals in a significantly shortened 12 lap sprint at Laguna Seca
Originally intended to be run over 26 laps, two separate red flag stops would see the third attempt at the race reduced to just a 12 lap sprint, an enticing premise that would see a thrilling dog fight between Sykes, Marco Melandri, Chaz Davies and Sylvain Guintoli.
Indeed, the eventual frenetic battle for victory seemed unlikely when the first start got underway as planned, with pole sitter Guintoli getting away well from the front and settling into a comfortable two second lead from Sykes and a charging Chaz Davies.
However, when wild-card Danny Eslick crashed on lap six and his Suzuki caused damage to the air fence at an important point of the circuit, the decision was taken to deploy the red flags for safety reasons.
Following a lengthy delay, the restart got underway with Guintoli once more getting the jump off the line from Sykes, while Davies was quickly back up to third after a disappointing start forced him to claw his way back past Laverty and Melandri.
However, the red flags would again make an appearance on lap eight when Eslick's team-mate Roger Lee Hayden slipped at turn four, the air fence getting damaged once again and forcing organisers to stop proceedings. The American's crash had come just a lap after Leon Haslam suffered a similar fall at the same bend, the Briton reported to have hurt his injured leg in the process.
With the third start shortened to just 12 laps around the relatively short circuit, a rather unfortunate Guintoli wouldn't get away so well on this occasion, the Frenchman's tardy getaway compounded by a hefty clash of handlebars with Sykes on the run to the opening bend.
Their contact would subsequently allow Davies to grab the lead, with Melandri completing a provisional BMW 1-2, while Guintoli, Sykes and Laverty chased to round out the top five.