Cal Crutchlow, a 22-year-old with a fast-track career plan, yesterday won his first ever British Superbike Championship race and leapt to joint-first place in the points table on his debut for the HM Plant factory Honda team.
Crutchlow has given himself a two-year target to win the title, and as this is his second year in the series, he had to deliver race wins or risk ending the season looking a little mouthy.
But the Coventry rider pushed into the lead within two laps of the start of the second championship race on the Thruxton circuit, built a two-second lead after seven laps, and never let his pursuers close the gap.
"After the first race we worked on trying to get more edge grip from the rear tyre, and it worked," Crutchlow said. "I moved to HM Plant on the basis that they are a championship-winning team. Now there's no reason why we can't push to win the title."
The Airwaves Ducati rider Shane Byrne, 31, won the first race, but failed to make a slick getaway when the second leg was restarted after a red flag stoppage. "I fannied about for too long getting into second place, and by that time Cal had gone," Byrne confessed.
But Byrne will be happy with his day's work, as he now shares the championship lead with Crutchlow. Both have 45 points after this opening round. Michael Rutter is third with 32 points.
Crutchlow led the first of the two races on the 2.3-mile Hampshire circuit, but succumbed to Byrne's greater experience. Byrne slipped past him on lap 12, and had a 2.3-second advantage by the finish. Rutter claimed the final podium position.