Motorcycling: Byrne tames Brands as Kiyonari prepares to ride away on a high

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The Independent Online

The 30-year-old Kent rider Shane Byrne used his local knowledge of the Brands Hatch circuit to shatter the lap record yesterday in practice for the final round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship tomorrow.

Byrne muscled his 1,000cc Stobart Honda round the 1.2-mile track in 45.691 seconds, to lead Jonathan Rea, on the factory HM Plant Honda, and the Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla on the Airwaves Ducati. The reigning champion, the Japanese rider Ryuichi Kiyonari, was fourth fastest on his HM Plant Honda, but he will have to do very little in the two races to retain his lead in this year's series.

Kiyonari, 25, holds a 37-point advantage over Rea, with Leon Haslam third, a further four points back. With a total of 50 points available for the rider who manages to win both legs, only a mighty crash in the first race could realistically stop Kiyonari from taking his second successive title.

Whatever happens, this 13th round of the series will mark the end of era in British Superbike competition. Kiyonari and the 20-year-old Rea are departing for the Netherlands' Ten Kate team, where they will contest the World Superbike and World Supersport championships respectively in 2008.

At Phillip Island, meanwhile, the newly-crowned MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner dominated yesterday's practice sessions at the GMC Australian Grand Prix – despite crashing. Stoner clocked 1min 31.132sec in wet conditions in the morning session, which was just over two seconds below race pace as the Australian again showed the dominant form which secured a maiden world crown two weeks ago.

Despite suffering a slight tumble in the afternoon, Stoner topped the time sheets – although he was the only rider unable to improve on his morning time.

Honda's Marco Melandri was four seconds quicker in the afternoon, but was still 0.423sec off Stoner's early pace.