Motorcycling: Smart sings in rain to send rivals crashing

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The Independent Online

Scott Smart, 29, scored the first win of the year by a home rider in the British Superbike Championship yesterday in a rain-lashed event here that saw many rivals slide into the gravel.

The former 250cc British champion revelled in the raw conditions, and pulled up from fourth place to take the lead on his Vivaldi Suzuki on the fifth of 15 laps.

Leon Haslam, the 22-year-old from Derbyshire, came second for Airwaves Ducati, ahead of his team-mate and the championship leader, Gregorio Lavilla.

"The first few laps felt OK," Smart said. "I was relaxed so I just went for it. When you have conditions like that it's easier in front because you don't have to deal with any spray."

Others had a less sanguine view of the conditions that had earlier coated the Leicestershire circuit with hail and snow. "You wouldn't believe how bad it was," Haslam said. "We were aquaplaning over standing water." Lavilla complained: "I couldn't feel my hands on the last five or six laps. I also had water inside my visor, and couldn't see."

Despite his ordeal in the British weather, the 31-year old Spaniard continued to build his lead in the championship. He added a victory in the first of yesterday's two races to his success in the opening round of the series at Brands Hatch, and heads Japan's Ryuichi Kiyonari by 24 points.

Kiyonari, 23, also won at Brands, but paid the price of youthful fervour at Donington when he grabbed the lead of the second race on the first lap, and then binned his HM Plant Honda soon after. His team-mate Karl Harris, Rizla Suzuki's James Haydon and Stobart Honda's Michael Rutter were among other top names who could not stay upright. The former British superbike champion Shane Byrne did not even complete the warm-up lap before he dived off his Rizla Suzuki.

The British riders must be wondering what they can do to prevent Lavilla clinching his second consecutive title. In the dry he breaks lap records, and in the wet he nurses his bike to the end, even if he cannot win.

The MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi and his crew chief Jerry Burgess are this week planning how to further improve their Camel Yamaha after their stunning win in the Qatar round on Saturday.

They will want to banish the last remnants of the wheel chatter, that plagued their season debut in Spain, in time for the third round of the series in Turkey on 30 April. Marlboro Ducati's Loris Capirossi leads the MotoGP championship for the first time in his 17 years of grand prix racing, and Rossi will be keen to close the gap as soon as possible.