Motorcycling: Haslam faces rides of his life in final shoot-out for British Superbike title

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The Independent Online

Leon Haslam, the only British rider with a chance of winning the British Superbike Championship, is in unrepentant mood as he approaches tomorrow's climax to the series at Brands Hatch.

"I'm here to win races, not to settle for second place," he said yesterday. "My Silverstone crash was just one of those things. Yes, I could have gone for a safe second place, but if you're going to win the Championship you've got to try for wins."

Haslam, who has won only two races this season, was referring to the previous round, when he plunged off his Airwaves Ducati when he was leading rivals Ryuichi Kiyonari and Gregorio Lavilla. By the end of the day he had also suffered another tumble - from first to third place in the points table.

Now the 23-year-old Derbyshire rider trails Lavilla by nine points and Kiyonari by eight. But each of tomorrow's two races on the Brands grand prix circuit offers double points, so there is a 100-point haul available.

In effect, the 24-event series has come down to a spectacular two-race shoot-out in the most competitive finish to the Championship since it adopted its modern format in 1995.

Can Haslam win - and perhaps launch his career back on to the world stage? He is tough, resilient and highly experienced (he has already competed in three seasons of grand prix racing and one in world superbikes). But his opponents come with equally effective packages.

Kiyonari, 24, is possibly the quickest of the trio in terms of sheer speed when he feels that conditions are right. Now in his third season on British tracks, he has already won 10 races this season on his factory HM Plant Honda Fireblade.

Lavilla, 31, is a thinking racer - the two qualities do not always come as a pair - and remains stoically calm. He has other attributes, too.

"Improvisation," he responded, when asked what he considered his main strength as a rider. "I had to improvise when I came to Britain and had to learn the circuits. I can also try different cornering lines and I can adapt to whatever happens during a race."

Haslam leads the contest for best qualifier over the season and could win a £50,000 Audi A4 cabriolet if he can put together a seamless lap of the 2.62-mile track this afternoon.

Ducati want to add the British title to the world superbike crown that the Australian rider Troy Bayliss is likely to give them in the Italian round at Imola tomorrow. But Honda desperately want to snatch the British prize after three years of being pummelled by Ducati and Suzuki.

Kiyonari might seem to be outnumbered in his struggle against the two Ducati riders, but the reality is that he can count on support from other Honda riders. His team-mate Karl Harris, 26, from Sheffield, has already scored six podiums this year, and Jonathan Rea, 19, is the sensation of the season on the Red Bull Fireblade.

In the Airwaves camp Lavilla and Haslam are more rivals than compatriots. But team manager Colin Wright will not hesitate to impose team orders if it helps the Ducati cause.

"To have both guys fighting for the Championship is delightful, but on the other hand there's the potential for disaster," he said.