The Australian rider Troy Bayliss closed in on his second World Superbike Championship yesterday when he claimed his sixth and seventh consecutive victories this season in two races on the 2.213-mile Northamptonshire circuit.
But the hero of the day for British fans was the 25-year-old Yorkshireman James Toseland, who twice powered from the fourth row of the grid after a troubled qualifying session to claim two third-place finishes on his Ten Kate Honda Fireblade. "I'm sorry I didn't get a win, but it was really hard work starting from 14th place," he told a delighted crowd.
The result leaves Bayliss, 37, with 225 points after only five of the championship's 12 rounds. Only crashes or a series of breakdowns - unlikely given the reliability of his 999cc Xerox Ducati - can prevent him from taking the title.
The Japanese rider Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha) finished second to Bayliss in each of yesterday's races, but the reigning champion, Alstare Corona Suzuki's Troy Corser, suffered a miserable day, with a crash in the first race and sixth place in the second.
Toseland dropped from third to fourth in the championship as a result of the day's racing, but finds himself in a stronger position in the chase for runner-up position to Bayliss. He started the day 42 points behind Corser, who currently holds second spot, but has now shrunk the gap to 20 points. Haga holds third with 133 points, only four ahead of Toseland.
At the start of the first race Toseland streaked to eighth place within a few corners. This effort was wasted, however, when the race was red-flagged after a crash that took out Corser and the Brazilian rider Alex Barros, who had to high-jump over his blazing Honda Fireblade as it slid after him across the run-off area. In the restart Toseland scythed passed seven riders to emerge in seventh position after the first lap.
Sadly for him, Bayliss had made a clean start from the front row, and settled in behind leader Haga. But Toseland needed only five laps to reach fifth place, and on lap 11 he passed fellow Briton Chris Walker (Kawasaki) into fourth.
On lap 21 Toseland, his rear wheel fish-tailing from side to side as he braked hard on the edge of adhesion, swooped inside the Ducati of Spaniard Ruben Xaus to claim third spot. He was now less than three seconds behind Bayliss, who was leading from Haga, with only seven laps remaining.
Setting his fastest laps of the race, Toseland shrank the gap to Bayliss to 1.718 seconds with two laps left. But even his inspired charge could not get him among the leaders, and Bayliss won by less than a second from Haga.
"Another two or three laps and it could have been a different story," Toseland said. "I couldn't hear the crowd cheering me on because my heart was beating so loudly. I'm still getting used to how this new bike works in different situations, and we're improving it all the time." Toseland also explained the secret of his astonishing starts. "Everyone bunches up on the inside of the first turn, but it's not the fastest way round there," he said. "I'm running my bike around the outside, and it's much better." Walker (Kawasaki) finished sixth, to record his best performance of the year, and World Superbike debutant Tommy Hill, 21, who had qualified on pole, finished 12th on his Virgin Mobile Yamaha.
Bayliss and Haga again contested the second race until the Australian won by 1.58 seconds. Toseland bounded to seventh position at the end of lap one, and reached third place on lap 21. But this time he couldn't hope to catch the leaders, and finished 12 seconds behind Bayliss, with Walker finishing eighth, and Hill repeating his 12th spot.
Toseland will test a traction control system on his Honda at the Brno circuit in the Czech Republic before the next superbike round at Misano in Italy on 25 June. Bayliss already benefits from a sophisticated version of the electronic aid on the Ducati, but up until now Toseland has had to use the traditional human tools of his right wrist and his backside to judge how much throttle to give his 200mph Honda.
World Superbike Championship Fifth round (Silverstone) Leading results: Race One: 1 T Bayliss (Aus) Ducati 40min 49.894sec; 2 N Haga (Japan) Yamaha 40:50.784; 3 J Toseland (GB) Honda 40:51.599; 4 R Xaus (Sp) Ducati 40:58.179; 5 A Pitt (Aus) Yamaha 41:02.197; 6 C Walker (GB) Kawasaki 41:13.610; 7 R Laconi (Fr) Kawasaki 41:15.377; 8 K Muggeridge (Aus) Yamaha 41:15.943; 9 A Barros (Br) Honda 41:19.544; 10 N Abe (Japan) Yamaha 41:22.102; 11 F Nieto (Sp) Kawasaki 41:29.501; 12 T Hill (GB) Yamaha 41:31.444; 13 L Lanzi (It) Ducati 41:31.829; 14 Y Kagayama (Japan) Suzuki 41:40.279; 15 G Nannelli (It) Honda 41:42.620.
Race Two: 1 Bayliss 40min 42.003sec; 2 Haga 40:43.588; 3 Toseland 40:54.061; 4 Pitt 40:56.564; 5 Barros 40:58.829; 6 T Corser (Aus) Suzuki 41:03.233; 7 Xaus 41:04.059; 8 Walker 41:04.552; 9 Muggeridge 41:04.711; 10 Nieto 41:16.028; 11 Abe 41:16.742; 12 Hill 41:17.115; 13 Kagayama 41:17.521; 14 Laconi 41:18.325; 15 M Fabrizio (It) Honda 41:29.853. Championship standings: Riders: 1 Bayliss 225pts; 2 Corser 149; 3 Haga 133; 4 Toseland 129; 5 Barros 113; 6 Pitt 103; 7 Lanzi 62; 8 Xaus 56; 9 Abe 51; 9 Walker 51. Manufacturers: 1 Ducati 226pts; 2 Suzuki 161; 3 Honda 156; 4 Yamaha 144; 5 Kawasaki 75; 6 Foggy-Petronas 4.Reuse content