Haslam defies pain to go seventh on grid

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The Independent Online

Britain's Leon Haslam rode for 118 miles around Brands Hatch with a broken left wrist yesterday in a courageous attempt to prove his fitness for tomorrow's European round of the World Superbike Championship.

The 21-year-old Derbyshire rider needed three pain-killing injections before he could wheel out his Renegade Ducati Koji motorcycle for the afternoon qualifying session on the 2.62-mile Kent circuit.

He covered 21 laps in the morning and 24 in the afternoon and claimed a provisional seventh place on the grid.

"I was only able to do five laps at a time in the morning," Haslam said later. "But after I had the injections I was able to nearly double that to seven or eight laps at a time."

Haslam won a British Superbike championship race at Brands Hatch last month and was hoping to achieve his first world superbike podium positions this weekend, until he damaged the wrist in a crash at Laguna Seca, California.

Now his team are doing everything they can to nurse him to the start line tomorrow, when he will have to tackle two 25-lap races - which equals 131 miles of racing at up to 170mph.

"Leon had to do this distance today in order to test himself for Sunday," said his father and adviser "Rocket" Ron Haslam, the former grand prix rider.

"He knew it was going to be painful, but the level of the pain has surprised him," the Renegade team owner Mark Griffiths said. "We're trying to adjust the bike so that it's a bit lighter for him to handle in the turns, but that will be at the expense of lap speed."

The Italian Pierfrancesco Chili topped the qualifying times with a lap of 1min 27.99sec. Noriyuki Haga, on the second Renegade Ducati, finished third, but the championship leader James Toseland ran into severe handling problems on the factory Ducati Fila, and trailed in in 15th place, 1.44sec behind Chili. "The bike's not doing anything right - I'm struggling to get around the track," he said.

His team-mate Regis Laconi, who trails him by only three points in the championship, was sixth fastest in 1min 28.726sec.

Toseland will now have to find an overnight solution to his problems, because the one-hour session that will determine the 16 riders at the front of the grid takes place this morning, with no free practice allowed beforehand.