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Back to Brands. . .

Words by Simon Bradley. pics by simon bradley and richard handley

Karl Muggeridge *really* wanted Superpole... Nearly got it, tooBrands Hatch is the largest event in the SBK calendar, and the largest sporting event, attendance-wise, in the UK. Not that you'd guess from mainstream media coverage. It's a massive party, with a fabulous atmosphere from the off. The weather frequently provides its own entertainment as well, but even the wettest British summer can't damp the enthusiasm of the 100,000 plus fans who crowd into the natural amphitheatre to see the closest racing around. 2006 sees Kent in the middle of the driest spell for over a century, with drought orders in place and hosepipe bans established for over three months. So it will be no surprise to hear that the forecast for race weekend was... wet.

Coming into the weekend, Troy Bayliss still has a massive lead but the last few weeks have seen his mid season performance tail off while his pursuers have gone from strength to strength. Brands is a circuit where many of the top players have successful records - Bayliss, Toseland, Corser and Haga have all had mixed fortunes here but have all gone particularly well on occasions. Bayliss, Toseland, Kagayama and wildcard Tommy Hill all have experience of the circuit from the British championship. And Brands is a circuit which rewards local knowledge, especially through the fearsome Paddock Hill bend.

Friday practice saw no real surprises - the pace was steady rather than scorching and track temperatures remained fairly low. The threat of rain never materialised, though, and the day passed without any big events other than Regis Laconi carrying on his Brands Hatch tradition and highsiding, happily without injury. Saturday, this being England, dawned warm, dry and sunny. Qualifying was again fairly uneventful, the biggest event of note being Frankie Chili making the cut for Superpole ahead of Sebastien Gimbert, while Steve Martin just got edged out so won't be getting the chance to repeat his remarkable 2004 performance here. Wildcard Tommy Hill took a solid sixth, just behind James Toseland, with Kagayama and Corser chasing surprise third place Laconi. Bayliss pipped Haga for the provisional pole, though of course Superpole is a different story...

And so it proved. By the time the riders lined up for Superpole, temperature had climbed further and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. People's favourite Frankie Chili rode a hugely popular but slow lap, while Lorenzo Lanzi took an early lead. Chris Walker boosted the home crowd by storming through to pole, holding it for just the one lap before Karl Muggeridge showed a burst of form to take the lead. Take and hold the lead, as his closest adversary, team-mate James Toseland, was also unable to topple him from the top. In fact, the best efforts of Hill, Kagayama, Corser and Laconi all proved not to be enough, and it wasn't until a spectacular lap by Nori Haga, which saw the Japanese rider unseated at Westfield and still manage to make up the time over the last sector, that Muggas had to yield the top step. Troy Bayliss then did what I can only describe as a textbook lap to go a whole four tenths faster than Haga. That's impressive indeed, as the same gap separates second place Haga from seventh place Laconi.

And the crowd went wild (again)... Walker toughs it out against KagayamaSo the front row of the grid has Bayliss and Haga leading the Ten Kate pairing of Muggeridge and Toseland. Corser heads the second row from Pitt, Laconi and Walker. Kagayama is on row three and Tommy Hill rounds out the top ten - very respectable for a bike that is a good 15km/h slower than the full factory supported machines of Haga and Pitt.

Race day continued the theme, dry and increasingly hot. Troy Corser heated things up further, falling off during the warmup and possibly aggravating an old injury. So after the first supporting events it came time for race one. Haga and Bayliss made the running from the off, hotly pursued by Corser, Muggeridge and Toseland. Kagayama made a good start from Pitt and Walker with Tommy Hill and Regis Laconi completing the top ten at the end of the first lap. Toseland wasted no time in moving up through the field to pass Muggas on lap three and Corser on lap five. The enthusiastic crowd went wild. Lap five sadly saw the unscheduled departure of Karl Muggeridge, crashing out unhurt at Clearways while, further down the field, Brno sensation Michel Fabrizio harried Lorenzo Lanzi, actually touching wheels on the way around Druids' before touching a little harder and crashing out on lap six. Again no injuries resulted. Up at the front, Bayliss took the lead on lap four, losing it to Haga on lap seven before retaking first position on lap ten. For one lap, Haga getting back in front and holding on until lap fifteen when Bayliss again took the lead. And just behind, Toseland got closer and closer, reeling in the lead pair and making his move on lap sixteen, relegating Haga to third and making it stick in no uncertain style. The partisan crowd drowned out the noise of the bikes as they went absolutely wild.

And they're off! How to get a 200bhp motorbike off the line quickly by Messrs Bayliss, Haga, Muggeridge and Toseland. JT is quick enough to beat the photographer...Behind the lead group, Andrew Pitt passed a struggling Troy Corser, shortly followed by Yukio Kagayama to put the champion down into sixth. Chris Walker homed in on the back of the Suzuki but ran out of laps before managing to get past. Alex Barros came out at the front of a multi-way tussle, leading Laconi, Xaus and Hill across the line while Lorenzo Lanzi and Norick Abe ended up ahead of Fonsi Nieto.

On the parade lap, Nieto and Hill ended up banging fairings and exchanging pleasantries but the overall over-riding impression that Hill's entry left us with is a rider who is utterly, utterly committed but whose bike is just that little too slow.

Race two was even warmer and tyre wear was starting to look as though it could be an issue. No surprises from the off, as Bayliss took the lead from Haga with Muggas third and Corser fourth. James Toseland slotted in behind in fifth. Kagayama, Laconi and Walker headed Pitt and Xaus to close out the top ten. The weekend continued to go downhill for Karl Muggeridge as he crashed out again at Sheene Curve while sitting ahead of Toseland. To make matters worse, the crash was the result of the same error he made in race one - taking just a slightly too tight line, leaning just a little too far and decking the engine cases out on the kerb, uloading the tyres and sliding out. The young Englishman was on a charge, passing Corser on lap four before inheriting third from Muggas and staying right on the pace. Up at the front, Haga and Bayliss again swapped places with astonishing regularity despite managing to turn in ridiculously quick lap times and utterly fail to trip each other up.

At the other end of the field, Kurtis Roberts rode but a single lap before retiring the Pedercini Ducati while Frankie Chili picked up a ride-through penalty for apparently jumping the start. Tommy Hill rode a spectacular race, climbing all over the back of the blisteringly fast Kawasaki of Fonsi Nieto before his bike simply stopped and his race was over. Nori Haga shows that he's learnedsomething from following Kawasakis. Now he doesn't follow anything... Nieto himself ran extremely wide at Sheene Curve, hitting the gravel but managing to remain upright despite dropping down to last place and running around at the back of the pack for a few laps before pulling in and retiring. Andrew Pitt was having a good ride, passing Laconi, Kagayama and Corser before reeling in and passing a fading Toseland to take third. Toseland eventually yielded fourth to Laconi just two laps from the end, tyre problems taking their toll. Conditions like this really show the advantage of traction control, as the Ten Kate Honda started to spin the back tyre as early as lap four, with grip dgrading steadily from there on. This time Haga managed to prevail so Yamaha Italia got a one-three with Bayliss the Ducati meat in the sandwich. Chris Walker chased Yukio Kagayama down in vain as yet again he didn't have sufficient laps to get past the Suzuki. Alex Barros came out on top of a race long duel with Ruben Xaus while Lorenzo Lanzi finished a distant eleventh.

This is Frankie Chili's last visit to Brands as a racer, the much loved veteran having officially called it a day as of the end of the season. He's an adopted Brit and the fans love him, so an emotional celebration was arranged - in truth he may as well have won from the way the fans appreciate him.

Assen next and Bayliss takes an almost unassailable lead with him. But it's Ten Kate's home race as well as one at which Toseland has always gone very well indeed. Haga has a good record there too. It's going to be brilliant and we'll see you there, I hope.


Race One

1 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
2 James Toseland (Honda)
3 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
4 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
5 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
6 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
7 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)
8 Alex Barros (Honda)
9 Regis Laconi (Kawasaki)
10 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)

Race TwoArriverderchi, Frankie. We'll miss you...

1 Noriuki Haga (Yamaha)
2 Troy Bayliss (Ducati)
3 Andrew Pitt (Yamaha)
4 Regis Laconi (Kawasaki)
5 James Toseland (Honda)
6 Troy Corser (Suzuki)
7 Yukio Kagayama (Suzuki)
8 Chris Walker (Kawasaki)
9 Alex Barros (Honda)
10 Ruben Xaus (Ducati)

Championship Standing after seven rounds:

1 Troy Bayliss 307
2 Nori Haga 230
3 James Toseland 219
4 Troy Corser 193
5 Alex Barros 166
6 Andrew Pitt 157
7 Yukio Kagayama 126
8 Lorenzo Lanzi 96
9 Chris Walker 96
10 Michel Fabrizio 87



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