Motorcycling: Byrne's speed makes waves

Shane Byrne and Airwaves Ducati set the fastest lap yesterday in practice for tomorrow's first round of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship.

The 31-year-old Kent rider blazed his 1098R V-twin round the 2.3mile track in 1min 26.657sec, a third of a second clear of Leon Haslam on a HM Plant Honda. Byrne has struggled since he won the British title in 2003 and the Airwaves team has lost out to Honda.

"The bikes were immediately fast in testing, but the one thing we didn't know until we got here was how fast the competition would be," the Airwaves team manager, Colin Wright, said.

"Now we know that our package is competitive. But for the last two years we've come away from the first round with the points lead and then lost the championship, so we're not letting this go to our heads."

Haslam, 24, has an equally powerful motive for wanting the title – he has finished second and third for the past two years and knows that winning it would boost his ambition of promotion to world superbike racing, or even MotoGP.

He and Byrne are joint favourites for the title in a new-look series in which all contestants use the same make of tyre –Pirelli – and ride bikes with strict limitations on engine tuning, in order to contain costs.

They will face pressure from a new wave of riders which includes Cal Crutchlow, 22, who rides the other HM Plant Honda, and Leon Camier, 21, who partners Byrne.

Elsewhere, the British rider Craig Jones (Honda) finished second fastest in practice for the World Supersport Championship in Spain. The German Max Neukirchner, on a Suzuki, topped superbike practice.