Jon Kirkham enjoyed a winning debut with the Samsung Honda team in the opening round of the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch today, but bad weather and deteriorating track conditions caused the cancellation of the second of the two Superbike races.
Kirkham snatched the advantage back from Alastair Seeley on the final corner of the last lap and then won the dash to the line by .136 of a second at the end of a race of attrition that had seen a dozen riders crash in the wet and cold conditions.
Pole starter Josh Brookes riding the Tyco Suzuki was outgunned at the start by Shane Byrne who forced his Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki into the lead from Kirkham on an opening lap that saw the Nissan GTR Safety Car quickly brought into action as first Graeme Gowland and Florian Marino and then Michael Laverty and Patric Muff tumbled in separate incidents.
Kirkham took over out front on the sixth lap soon after the withdrawal of the Safety Car with Michael Rutter moving second on his Bathams MSS Kawasaki at the expense of Byrne. Gary Mason was strong in fifth on the Quattro Plant Kawasaki ahead of Tristan Palmer riding the GBmoto Honda and then Brookes.
Seeley, meanwhile, was making up positions fast aboard the Tyco Suzuki and at one thirds distance he was up to fourth and attacking Byrne, taking third next time around and then challenging Rutter as the Safety Car again intervened as Dan Linfoot slid off, without injury. Kirkham, who had been six seconds clear, saw his lead radically reduced over Rutter and Seeley and once racing resumed Seeley was soon running in second place to set up a thrilling final end to the race.
Kirkham was riding hard, but Seeley was even more determined and going into Druids for the 22nd time he found a way through on the inside line to take the lead. Rutter was strong in third but Brookes lost ground as he ran wide across the grass after saving a near crash. Ian Lowry moved fourth on the Padgetts Honda ahead of Byrne and Supersonic BMW rider Tommy Bridewell, Mason and James Westmoreland on the WFR Honda.
Seeley had the advantage but Kirkham was giving nothing away, trying to find a way back in front at Paddock Hill Bend but Seeley held him off. It was close and fierce but going through Clearways on the final lap Seeley momentarily slid out of line. Kirkham seized the moment, charging through to take the victory, his second in the championship.
"He got into a big slide and I just held my breath and squirted the bike through," said Kirkham. "I'm ecstatic - my first race with the team, my second win in the championship, this is just perfect. "
Seeley, who had earned graduation back into the top flight on the back of winning the Supersport title last year, was relieved to hold on to his bike and finish second as he explained: "My tires were moving about a bit as I tried to defend my lead but then the bike just broke away from me. I thought it was going to catapult me off but I held on, though I didn't have the grip to get back at Kirkham."
Rutter took fourth ahead of Lowry, Mason and Bridewell.
The second race was postponed following track contamination at the circuit.
MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship Series Director Stuart Higgs said: "We have worked very hard to clean the track after the contamination, the second such situation over the weekend, but it has been a unanimous decision by the riders, teams and officials to reschedule this race to another event. It is a terribly frustrating situation, but safety remains paramount."