Kiyonari's flying start denies hosts

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The Independent Online

The Japanese rider Ryuichi "Rio" Kiyonari bid "sayonara" to Britain's top motorcycle racers at Brands Hatch yesterday.

The 22-year-old HM Plant Honda rider won both 30-lap races in the first round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship, building an early 14-point lead in the 13-round, 26-race series.

"Very, very happy," Kiyonari said after his performance on the 1.23-mile Indy circuit.

The home riders had to stomach being beaten by a rider in only his second year in Britain and by a 30-year-old jobless Spaniard, Gregorio Lavilla, who finished in second and third place in the two races, just days after being drafted into the Airwaves Ducati team to replace the injured James Haydon.

Lavilla has raced at world championship level but has no permanent contract for 2005. "If there is a good ride available, I am free to take it," Lavilla said after a performance that put him in second place in the points table.

The reigning champion John Reynolds rode courageously only five weeks after breaking his right leg in five places in a practice crash. The 39-year-old Nottinghamshire rider hobbled around the pits on crutches, but climbed on his Rizla Suzuki to claim two ninth places that allow him to keep a fingerhold on his title.

Troubles started early for the rest of the home riders. Fastest qualifier Leon Haslam dropped out of the first race within half a lap when he almost crashed his Airwaves Ducati and killed his engine.

"He got over-excited and had a big slide," team manager Colin Wright said. "It threw him in the air and his shoulder went through the windscreen and bent the dashboard." Another favoured title contender, Scott Smart, lasted only six laps before he tumbled off his Rizla Suzuki while trying to avoid veteran grand prix rider Jeremy McWilliams, who had a slide on his Stobart Honda.

Kiyonari led the race from the first corner, and never looked stretched as he pulled out a lead of more than 10 seconds over Lavilla. He also set a new lap record, in 45.954 seconds, just 0.235sec faster than Reynolds' previous best.

Australia's Glen Richards took his Kawasaki into third place, making it the first all-foreign podium in British Superbike championship history.

Kiyonari's team-mate, Michael Rutter, was the first British finisher, in fourth place, followed by Virgin Yamaha's Sean Emmett.

Kiyonari led again at the start of the second race. This time Sean Emmett offered a brief challenge by easing his Virgin Mobile Samsung Yamaha ahead on the entrance to Druids Bend on the second lap, but it did not take Kiyonari long to get back in front. Rutter pushed into second, holding off Lavilla, Haslam and Emmett.

"I've been struggling," Rutter said. "But I tried a different front tyre in the second race and it gave me the confidence to get up there. Now I've got to really work to catch 'Rio'."

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