Leon Haslam and the JG Speedfit Kawasaki team edged one step closer to the 2017 MCE British Superbike Championship at TT Circuit Assen earlier today (Sunday). The Derbyshire rider claimed first and third place finishes to extend his lead in the title race from 22 to 32 points with just one round remaining.
The 34-year-old was consistently in the top three in both the dry and wet during practice and qualifying at the Dutch venue. And while all his rivals struggled in the wet qualifying session on Saturday, Haslam excelled on the Kawasaki ZX-10R and lined up in second place on the grid for Sunday’s first race.
Never outside the top three, the race saw no less than six riders dispute the win but with the SC1 harder tyre again working well as the race wore on, Haslam grabbed the lead on lap 14 and immediately opened up a small gap. It meant he went into the final lap with a nice cushion and he duly took the victory, his 31st BSB career win, by two seconds to extend his title lead to 28 points.
Starting from the front row once more for the second 18-lap race, Haslam slotted into third in the early stages and although he’d dropped back to sixth by lap six, he was soon back up to fourth as just one second covered the leading five riders at half-race distance.
By lap 15 he’d moved in to third and although he ran wide at turn one a lap later, dropping back to fourth, he fought back to claim third on the final lap.
With a haul of 41 points from the two races, Haslam extended his lead in the championship to 32 points with just the final round and three races at Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time remaining.
Meanwhile, a heavy crash in the wet qualifying session left team-mate Luke Mossey almost at the back of the grid in 25th, with only two riders behind him, but by the end of the opening lap of the first race, he’d already gained six places. The 24-year-old continually moved forward and with good, dry weather he came out on top of a five-rider battle to claim a hard earned 12th at the chequered flag.
It meant he started the second race from the sixth row as opposed to the eighth but he was unable to climb any higher than 16th place and he eventually retired just after half-race distance. He’s now ninth overall in the table but still very much in contention for the BSB Rider’s Cup, awarded to the rider who finishes seventh at season’s end.
It was also a mixed meeting for the Hyundai Heavy Industries British Sidecar Championship pairing of Ricky Stevens/Ryan Charlwood who, after qualifying in sixth, crossed the line in eighth in Saturday’s six-lap encounter although this secured them 13 points for being the fourth F1 outfit to cross the line.
The duo found themselves locked in a battle with Steve Kershaw/Stuart Clark for the final podium position in Sunday’s 10-lap race but it all went wrong on the final lap when they crashed out, fortunately without major injury, but the weekend’s results have seen them drop back to third overall in the championship table.
Haslam said: “I had a plan for race one but this is one of those circuits where nothing normally goes to plan. I was happy sitting behind James Ellison and Sylvain Guintoli for most of the race and to be honest, I thought James had the soft tyre on at the beginning because he had such a good pace but then mid-race it all levelled out. With six laps to go I decided just to stay smooth and hit my points and it worked out.
“In race two I was pushing hard and I was struggling a little bit for the first half of the race. I managed to find a good rhythm towards the end but we had a little bit of an issue on the back straight when the engine cut out on me.
“Big thanks to everyone at JG Speedfit Kawasaki; I felt happy with the bike and the boys have done really well this weekend. We’ve had a hard part of the season and when qualifying doesn’t go well, or you’re generally having a bad weekend, you can be down in seventh or eighth place but the Showdown is where it matters and so far, so good. We’ve just got three more races to go to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Mossey said: “It’s so frustrating as we’ve not had the best of luck recently. I was happy with how race one went although it wasn’t quite the result we wanted. However, it’s the first race I’ve finished in about three months and has given me a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the final round.
“In race two I didn’t have a good feeling from the tyre from turn one – I just couldn’t get any grip and was losing ground. It just wasn’t worth risking it which is why I decided to retire early. I just have to stay positive for Brands and hope better luck will come our way!”
Stevens said: “We are both hugely disappointed to end the weekend in this way. The bike felt the best it has done all year and a positive result would have been a just reward for all the team’s hard work.
“I’m absolutely gutted for Ryan, who has broken his foot in several places, and would like to thank all the marshals and the medical staff at the circuit for their help and assistance.”
Team Manager Jack Valentine said: “What a fantastic weekend for Leon and the team! We got on the podium twice and increased our points lead at the top of the table which is what we came here to do. I think we could have had two wins if Leon’s engine hadn’t cut out but I’m happy with what we have achieved this weekend and looking forward to Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time.”
MCE British Superbike Championship standings (after eleven rounds)
- Leon Haslam (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) 612pts
- Josh Brookes (Yamaha) 580
- Shane Byrne (Ducati) 579
- Jake Dixon (Kawasaki) 558
- Peter Hickman (BMW) 549
- Jason O’Halloran (Honda) 526
- Luke Mossey (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) 180
Hyundai Heavy Industries British Sidecar Championship standings (after nine rounds)
- Reeves/Reeves (Kawasaki) 450pts
- Kershaw/Clark (Kawasaki) 236
- Stevens/Charlwood (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) 226
- Holland/Bryant (Kawasaki) 222
- Bryan/Hyde (Kawasaki) 158
- Horspole/Connell (Suzuki) 110