Motorcycling: Haslam looks for title lead

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Leon Haslam's two biggest rivals have each won seven races this year while he has not topped the podium once. But the 23-year-old Airwaves Ducati rider believes he is poised to take the lead in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship for the first time tomorrow at Croft.

The Japanese rider Ryuichi Kiyonari is five points ahead in the championship on his HM Plant four-cylinder Honda Fireblade, but Haslam hopes to eliminate that gap with his twin-cylinder bike on the 2.13-mile Yorkshire circuit.

"We tested at Croft a few months ago, and we were quick," Haslam said yesterday. "We know that we've got a reasonable set-up, and if the weather stays dry I'm confident." His frustration has been evident this year as on 12 of the 14 occasions he has been on the podium, either Kiyonari or his Airwaves team-mate, Spain's Gregorio Lavilla, have been on the top step above him.

But Lavilla's early dominance has imploded amid crashes and mechanical problems. Kiyonari has won six of his last eight outings, but has only a slim points lead because of his earlier inconsistency.

Now Haslam reckons his best moments are about to come. "In the first four rounds I was riding with a broken ankle," he said. "Now I've also got the worst tracks in the series for the Ducati behind me. The rest have got more flowing corners, including the double-points final round at Brands Hatch. I'm definitely going for the championship."

Kiyonari has 274 points to Haslam's 269 and Lavilla's 260, so the battle is wide open with eight races left. Honda have invested heavily in the 23-year-old Kiyonari, but he is still to win the title after three years in the series. Lavilla, 31, wants to win for the second year running, and perhaps bounce back to World Superbikes. Haslam needs the title on his CV to give credibility to his blossoming aspirations.