JG Speedfit Kawasaki’s Leon Haslam celebrated his return to Brands Hatch with a first-place finish in the second race of round 2 of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship.
Leon Haslam put in a superb ride at Brands Hatch on Sunday to claim his, and the team’s, first win of the 2018 Bennetts British Superbike Championship. The 34-year-old came out on top in difficult conditions in the second race of the day to take his 32nd career BSB victory and move into third overall in the early championship table.
With mixed conditions at the Kent venue during free practice on Friday, Saturday’s qualifying session had ideal weather, but the times were again incredibly close and although only one tenth of a second separated Leon and team-mate Luke Mossey, the former qualified in fifth place for the opening 30-lap race on Sunday with Luke back in 13th.
A good start by Leon saw him complete the first lap in third place, a position the Derbyshire rider held onto until half-race distance when Jason O’Halloran relegated him to fourth. The duo were nose to tail for the remainder of the race but, try as he might, Leon was unable to find a way through and had to settle for fourth with Luke, a double winner at the venue in 2017, disappointed to have finished back in 15th.
Leon started race two from third and the front row of the grid while Luke was going to have work to do once more from 15th and by lap six they were in second and 13th respectively when the race was stopped owing to rain. Restarted over the shorter distance of 22 laps and with tricky, damp conditions it was a challenging race for all concerned but Leon ran in the top three throughout.
As the race wore on, no fewer than five riders were disputing the lead but with Jake Dixon crashing out and Shane Byrne slipping back it became a straight fight between Leon, Glenn Irwin and Michael Laverty.
Positions changed hands regularly but on the penultimate lap, Leon moved into the lead and brilliantly held on for his first win of the season, considerably closing the gap to Byrne and Bradley Ray in the championships table.
Luke battled manfully in the wet weather conditions and his efforts were rewarded with 13th place and three more points.
Quattro Plant JG Speedfit Kawasaki team-mates James Hillier and Ricky Stevens / Ryan Charlwood were also in action, contesting the British Supersport and Sidecar Championship races respectively. Using the weekend for further testing ahead of the international road race meetings, James placed 22nd in the opening race before being forced to retire in Sunday’s outing.
Meanwhile, Stevens and Charlwood, using a new 600cc engine for their 2018 campaign, were out of luck in their first race, retiring on lap seven of the 15-lap race. Sunday’s second race saw them finish in eighth overall but the fourth of the 600cc competitors thus getting their first points on the board.
Leon Haslam said:“Brands Indy has never been one of my strongest tracks so to leave here with a fourth and a win is positive. Normally I wouldn’t be happy with a fourth place but here I am. It has been a tough weekend with getting a set-up on the Kawasaki.
“We made some good changes between race one and two, I was running second before the red flag came out. We got a good set-up in the dry and that is really positive moving forwards to Oulton.
“The second part of race two was good fun, a little sketchy but good to ride. We all had some good battles and it worked in my favour in the end. I am really looking forward to Oulton, it is one of my favourite tracks and hopefully we will continue this form now.”
Luke Mossey said: “It was a really tough weekend, we made a lot of changes but I was just struggling all weekend to feel comfortable and confident. I went with the SC1 in race one and I know now it wasn’t the right thing to do but we had to try something.
“We made some changes between races and I decided to run the softer tyre in race two, I was feeling a little more confident when the red flag came out. The boys worked hard to change the settings and I know the result didn’t reflect it but the bike felt really good and I was able to push pretty hard.
“We will do some testing before Oulton and I hope to get back to the sharp end where we belong.”
Ryan Charlwood said:“We are both really happy to have got time on the bike this weekend, especially after a fueling issue in race 1 which led to us breaking down in lap six and finishing 16th.
“After starting from the back in race 2 we managed to finish 8th and 5th in the 600cc cup, so we’ve picked up some points for the weekend and got the bike home safely.
“We’re looking forward to getting some more track time ahead of Oulton Park in May.”
Team Manager Jack Valentine added:“We have been working hard this weekend with both riders to try and find some grip with the Kawasaki. We have had to chip away in each session making various changes on both bikes to get a good set-up that would last race distance.
“Leon had a solid result in the opening race today after a lot of hard work by the team to make the right changes. In race two, once again the team worked exceptionally hard to get everything switched over to the wet settings.
“Leon was right at the front from the start and he rode a very mature and impressive race. It was extremely tough out there and there were some hard moves made by other riders, but Leon used his world class experience to fend off these challenges and take our first win of the season. It was just what the team needed to give everyone a confidence boost and our season starts here.
“It was a disappointing weekend for Luke, he struggled with the grip again and found it difficult to find a set-up that worked for him. The team and Luke opted for the harder tyre in race one, the only one on the grid with this tyre compound and it just didn’t work for him. He went for the SC0 in race two and his times were stronger until the red flag came out. He had a low grid position for the re-start but pushed on and got some championship points.
“We have a test at Oulton and then onto the race. We are looking forward to going there and getting both riders at the front end.”
The next round of the series takes place at Oulton Park, Cheshire between 5th and 7th May.