Motorcycling: Haslam's rare route to British glory

The Derbyshire rider Leon Haslam will today launch a campaign to win the British Superbike Championship armed with a pair of the rarest machines in motorcycle racing.

Ducati have made only eight of their 999cc FO6 V-twins and Haslam will ride one of them during qualifying at Brands Hatch for tomorrow's two races at the opening round of the series.

"It's a fantastic bike, fitted with traction control," Haslam said. "It allows you to open the throttle earlier and more aggressively. It also helps to avoid big high-side crashes: the rear tyre can still spin, but the electronics control how much."

Haslam is the strongest British hope in a series dominated last year by the Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla, 31, and the 23-year-old Japanese sensation Ryuichi Kiyonari. Lavilla is Haslam's team-mate in the Dunlop-shod Airwaves Ducati squad, while Kiyonari leads HM Plant Honda's challenge on their CBR1000R Fireblade and Michelin rubber.

"I want to win the British title and then get into a competitive team in MotoGP," said Haslam, the son of former grand prix rider "Rocket Ron" Haslam.

Kiyonari won 12 races last year, more than any other competitor, but he and his team-mate Michael Rutter crashed too often and the title slipped out of Honda's hands.

Now desperate to win the Britain's premier series for the first time in two decades, Honda have put Kiyonari through nearly 3,000 miles of winter testing on the £250,000 Fireblade. The Japanese firm will also truck 6,500kg of parts to support their riders at each of the 13 rounds.

Shane Byrne, the 2003 champion, returns after two barren years in MotoGP, but a test programme conducted on bitterly cold English circuits will not help his chances on Rizla Suzuki's GSX-R1000.

The title chase looks like being a three-way fight between Kiyonari, Lavilla, and Haslam, but Karl Harris - making his superbike debut as Kiyonari's partner - has been quick in testing and could get podiums.

BSB race days

Tomorrow Brands Hatch

9 April Donington Park

17 April Thruxton

1 May Oulton Park

21 May Mondello Park

4 June Mallory Park

18 June Snetterton

16 July Knockhill

23 July Oulton Park

13 Aug Croft

28 Aug Cadwell Park

17 Sept Silverstone

1 Oct Brands Hatch

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