Gregorio Lavilla has a healthy points advantage as he heads for the fifth round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Mondello Park but the defending title holder knows all too well that the opposition is closing in on him.

Both Shane Byrne, the title winner of three years ago, prior to a couple of terms in World MotoGP, and Karl Harris showed in the previous races at Oulton Park that they have the pace to test the brilliant Spanish rider to the full.

The Airwaves Ducati rider completed the daily double at the Cheshire circuit, but he was hard pressed to maintain his superiority, taking the verdict by a split second in each to increase his lead in the title stakes to 61 over his team-mate Leon Haslam.

Byrne was riding through a bout of sickness, but, the hard testing work he had previously carried out on the Rizla Suzuki paid dividends and despite his illness he was back to his championship winning speed and style. He is a man in a hurry to re-establish himself at the sharp end of the domestic series and sees the Irish round as the place to really kick-start his season.


That is also the case for Harris, who is riding fast and hard aboard the HM Plant Honda, and eager to taste the victor’s champagne in the top flight for the first time in a career that has already seen him win the British Supersport crown on three occasions. The Sheffield rider is on fire and intends to ‘put one over’ Lavilla. “I was hoping to top him at Oulton, but will do at Mondello.”

The fightback by these two talented riders is adding spice to the action. Haslam, might be the teamster of Lavilla, but that does not stop him wanting the title – there are no team orders and the young Derbyshire rider is eager to get ahead of the game.

Lavilla however remains quietly confident. He is meticulous in his preparations and goes into Mondello Park with good knowledge of the tight, twisting course which he rode for the first time last year – then he took a third and a victory. This year, he expects at least the same.

He is far from complacent. After his successes at Oulton Park he commented: “I do not think about the title – remember last year, Michael Rutter was 65 points clear, but he did not win the championship. I think only about each race, and taking as many points as possible from it.”

kiyonariThat message cannot be lost on Ryuichi Kiyonari, the young Japanese rider now in his third season in the championship. He had been expected to pose the major threat to Lavilla, but so far, despite having a factory prepared HM Plant Honda, he has won only once, and is lying third in the standings. He had a victory and a third place last time at Mondello and now he needs a confidence boosting action replay.

There are the promises of surprises. Jonathan Rea, riding the Red Bull Honda, took his maiden pole at the circuit last year –

the young Ulsterman is back for more, with a maturing style and is determined to show what might have been, but for a first corner tumble and then a machine problem. He showed at Oulton Park he is capable of running with the best and is ready to deliver the goods. That is also the case with Michael Laverty, the team-mate of Michael Rutter, aboard the Stobart Motorsport Honda. He is relying on ‘home fan power’ to help him repeat his top four finish of last season.

Rutter also needs a strong result, while Steve Plater, boosted by his Superbike double in the NorthWest 200 should be a force to be reckoned with, while Scott Smart, a race winner at the circuit a couple of years ago, has been setting strong testing times aboard the Vivaldi Suzuki.

Tommy Hill heads the three rider Virgin Mobile Yamaha team, while Hawk Kawasaki are hoping that their Aussies Dean Thomas and Craig Coxhell can turn on the style. In the British Superbike Cup, Ulsterman Marty Nutt is hoping for a change of fortune after his machine problems in the previous round as he chases defending champion and current series leader James Buckingham.



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