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May 25, 2011

British Superbike Championship Points Leader Byrne: Thruxton Is All About Speed

Shane Byrne (67).


Shane Byrne believes that the high speed nature of the Thruxton circuit will be well suited to the performance of his HM Plant Honda and that he can add to his two victories already this season to extend the slender three points advantage he has over his Suzuki riding rival, former MotoGP racer John Hopkins.

Byrne is at the sharp-end of the pack having won the second of the two races at Croft last time out, having briefly lost the top spot in the rankings when a mechanical problem sidelined him, while leading, in the opening race. He has a strong pedigree at the Hampshire circuit and intends to build on that while his team-mate, the three times winner of the British crown Ryuichi Kiyonari has to mount something of a fight-back into contention after a bitterly disappointing time in the third round at the North Yorkshire circuit.

Kiyonari goes into this round 36 points down on Byrne and knowing that he has to be on the pace from the start of free practice to ensure that he is not bugged again by the bike settings issues that slowed him at Croft and left him with a lowly grid position. Then a gamble on tyre choice for a damp race went against him and left him running at the back of the pack, though in the second race he fought back to grab a point.

Kiyonari, a race winner earlier in the season at Oulton Park, needs to re-kindle the form that took him to a winning double at Thruxton as he eased to his first British crown in 2005, though since then he has not made the top step of the podium, although twice he has taken a third place and once a second. Byrne in contrast has taken four wins at the circuit, a winning double in his title winning season of 2003 and then a win and a second as he regained the title in 2008.

Those results, and track knowledge, should give Byrne the decisive edge over Hopkins who has not raced the circuit before, and so far has only seen it from the passenger seat of a car, leaving the American with a steep learning curve, but one that he reckons he can achieve.

The championship has seen five different riders taste the victor's champagne so far and Tommy Hill, a winner in the first round, while still suffering pain from the shoulder he injured in a heavy tumble during the second round, should be much stronger for these races and able to push for a top three finish. Jon Kirkham who took maiden BSB victory at Croft will also be a force to be reckoned with.

Gary Mason, a podium finisher for the first time in a long career at Croft, is eager for more of the same aboard his Kawasaki and for this round will have a new team-mate. He is joined by Alex Lowes who replaces Stuart Easton, the Scottish rider who was third in the title chase, but who is now sidelined by serious injuries sustained in a crash while practicing for last weekend's North West 200 race in Northern Ireland.

Lowes had previously taken the honours in five of the six races to be leading the chase for the title in the "back to basics" BSB-EVO class, but after the Croft round parted company with the WFR Honda team in a dispute over an unsigned contract. Lowes was without a ride for Thruxton until he answered a late call from Kawasaki to deputise in the main championship for Easton.

Honda rider quotes ahead of Thruxton:

Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda): "We had another win last time out at Croft and I really want to maintain that momentum at Thruxton. I am really looking forward to the weekend and I think it should suit my bike from a performance point of view. Thruxton is all about speed and I think with a few more steps before the race we should be back up the front again and challenging for some more wins and those podium credits. The last time I raced there I had a win and last year HM Plant Honda won so hopefully that bodes well ahead of the weekend."

Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda): "Last year Thruxton was a good race for the team with a win, although I just missed out on the podium. It was a very hard weekend at Croft for me and the team, but I am going to Thruxton and I want to try and do again what I did at Oulton Park - I want to win and be back on the podium. I hope that we can work hard in free practice and qualifying to make changes to solve the problems we had at Croft so that we can be fast and pushing for wins."