Byrne's double triumph delays title coronation for Hodgson

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The Independent Online

Shane Byrne, Britain's most laid-back motorcycle racer, produced two blazing displays of talent here yesterday only hours after claiming that he had come to Brands Hatch for "a bit of a cruise round." The 26-year-old from the Isle of Sheppey in Kent won both legs of the European round of the World Superbike championship, and shattered the lap record on his MonsterMob-Ducati.

But even after triumphing as a wild-card rider - he normally competes in the British superbike series - Byrne said modestly: "The first race still hasn't sunk in yet, let alone the second."

Byrne's performance was one of the factors that ended Neil Hodgson's hopes of sewing up the world championship on home soil. Hodgson had arrived with a massive 122-point lead over his closest rival, Spain's Ruben Xaus, and needed to squeeze out a further 28 points to claim the title.

But the weekend never went right for the former British champion. He went out at the wrong time in a slippery qualifying session and ended up on the third row on the grid, only 11th fastest.

In the first race he forced up to second place, but could do no better than fifth later after his 1,000cc Fila Ducati twice found a false neutral.

"I'm very unhappy not to have won here at Brands," he said. "I can't be pleased with this. To come where I did in the second race was appalling. If I can't win the championship at Assen, there's something seriously wrong.

"But taking nothing away from Shane, he was fantastic. He's definitely ready for the world championship, and I hope he'll be there next year."

Byrne and his team owner, Paul Bird, confirmed that they are planning to quit the British superbike series - in which they hold a massive lead - in 2004.

Mechanical breakdowns, which are rare in superbike racing, played a critical role in the result of the first race.

John Reynolds, another wild carder, used the benefit of his pole position to slice into the lead on the right-hander at Paddock Hill. He was overhauled by Byrne, who hacked his way up from fourth, but Reynolds was poised to mount another challenge when his Suzuki slowed on lap 11 and he retired with engine problems.

Hodgson displayed his track craft by recovering from his poor grid position to reach sixth place within one lap. By lap 13 he was challenging Xaus for third and benefited when the Spaniard's bike began to emit blue smoke and slowed. The Briton then latched on to his long-time rival Chris Walker and pushed into second place.

"I was determined not to make any stupid mistakes," Hodgson said. "But I thought I'd better have a good race with my old mate Chris - it's what the crowd wanted to see.

Byrne and Reynolds dominated again in race two, with Reynolds finishing only half a second behind on his Rizla-Suzuki. In third place, James Toseland scored his eighth podium position of the season, and is now only 19 points behind Xaus in the championship standings.

However, British fans were dismayed by the continuing troubles afflicting Carl Fogarty's team. Riders Troy Corser and James Haydon could cobble together only a 17th place between them - Haydon's ride in the first race - after mechanical problems again plagued the bikes.

SUPERBIKES (Ninth round at Brands Hatch) Race 1: 1 Shane Byrne (Gbr) Ducati 36min 25.400sec, 2 Neil Hodgson (Gbr) Ducati 36:31.199, 3 Chris Walker (Gbr) Ducati 36:31.318, 4 Regis Laconi (Fra) Ducati 36:32.208, 5 Sean Emmett (Gbr) Ducati 36:35.063, 6 James Toseland (Gbr) Ducati 36:35.326, 7 Gregorio Lavilla (Spa) Suzuki 36:35.770, 8 Michael Rutter (Gbr) Ducati 36:57.865, 9 Pierfrancesco Chili (Ita) 36:58.124, 10 Yukio Kagayama (Jpn) Suzuki 25 37:01.618, 11 Dean Ellison (Gbr) Ducati 37:11.198, 12 Juan Bautista Borja (Spa) Ducati 37:17.702, 13 Ivan Clementi (Ita) Kawasaki 37:18.641, 14 Steve Martin (Aus) Ducati 37:19.576, 15 Mauro Sanchini (Ita) Kawasaki 37:34.934, 16 Alex Gramigni (Ita) Yamaha 37:36.992, 17 James Haydon (Gbr) Petronas 37:55.867, 18 Giancarlo De Matteis (Ita) Ducati 36:49.301, 19 Luca Pedersoli (Ita) Ducati 37:17.046.

Retired: Troy Corser (Aus) Petronas 32:43.968, Ruben Xaus (Spa) Ducati 21:56.859, Marco Borciani (Ita) Ducati 19:30.532, Leon Haslam (Gbr) Ducati 22:57.087, John Reynolds (Gbr) Suzuki 16:03.871, Sergio Fuertes (Spa) Suzuki 16:46.695, Lucio Pedercini (Ita) Ducati 13:39.968, Walter Tortoroglio (Ita) Honda 13:58.466, Nick Medd (Gbr) Ducati 10:53.460, Jiri Mrkyvka (Cze) Ducati 4:46.976.

Race 2: 1 Shane Byrne (Gbr) Ducati 36min 25.639sec, 2 John Reynolds (Gbr) Suzuki 36:26.178, 3 James Toseland (Gbr) Ducati 36:28.530, 4 Ruben Xaus (Spa) Ducati 36:30.501, 5 Neil Hodgson (Gbr) Ducati 36:31.443, 6 Gregorio Lavilla (Spa) Suzuki 36:35.132, 7 Pierfrancesco Chili (Ita) Ducati 36:41.688, 8 Regis Laconi (Fra) Ducati 36:43.410, 9 Yukio Kagayama (Jpn) Suzuki 36:54.929, 10 Leon Haslam (Gbr) Ducati 36:57.123, 11 Alex Gramigni (Ita) Yamaha 37:28.059, 12 Dean Ellison (Gbr) Ducati 37:28.092, 13 Ivan Clementi (Ita) Kawasaki 37:28.388, 14 Marco Borciani (Ita) Ducati 37:28.947, 15 Mauro Sanchini (Ita) Kawasaki 37:33.138, 16 Lucio Pedercini (Ita) Ducati 37:41.859, 17 Sergio Fuertes (Spa) Suzuki at 1 lap.

Retired: Michael Rutter (Gbr) Ducati, Juan Bautista Borja (Spa) Ducati, Chris Walker (Gbr) Ducati, Nick Medd (Gbr) Ducati, Jiri Mrkyvka (Cze) Ducati, Walter Tortoroglio (Ita) Honda, Steve Martin (Aus) Ducati, Luca Pedersoli (Ita) Ducati, Sean Emmett (Gbr) Ducati, Troy Corser (Aus) Petronas, James Haydon (Gbr) Petronas, Giancarlo De Matteis (Ita) Ducati

Championship standings: 1 Hodgson 386pts, 2 Xaus 246, 3 Toseland 227, 4 Laconi 208, 5 Lavilla 185, 6 Walker 172, 7 Chili 159, 8 Martin 97, 9 Borciani 95, 10 Pedercini 91.