Motorcycling: Kiyonari plays it safe to seal title

The Japanese rider Ryuichi Kiyonari performed cannily here yesterday to clinch the Bennetts British Superbike Championship for the second consecutive year with unspectacular third and fourth places in the two title races.

Kiyonari, 25, started the day with a 37-point advantage over his HM Plant Honda team-mate Jonathan Rea, and needed only to stay out of trouble to block the ambitions of British riders.

On the 1.2-mile Brands Indy circuit, where riders lap in a frenzied 45 seconds, Kiyonari wisely avoided scrapping with rivals who had more to prove, and ended the 26-race season with a 26-point advantage over Rea.

"Before the race I was nervous," said Kiyonari, who has won promotion to the World Superbike series next year. "I was thinking, 'Must not crash.' But sometimes if you don't ride hard and push you can lose concentration and crash."

The meticulous Spanish rider Gregorio Lavilla scored a double victory on his Airwaves Ducati, coming from behind both times to overwhelm both the HM Plant competitors. In the first leg he started fourth, but eventually sliced in front of Rea on the 22nd of 30 laps. Kiyonari confirmed his title with third place, ahead of Leon Haslam (Airwaves Ducati) and the 22-year-old Rizla Suzuki rider Cal Crutchlow.

Rea blazed into the lead in the second race, but Lavilla claimed the glory with another display of centimetre-perfect riding on the sinuous Brands ribbon. Crutchlow scored his first-ever podium position in the series with third place, from Kiyonari and Haslam.

The event marked the end of an era in the championship, which will lose its top two riders next year and, it appears, the powerful GSE Racing squad which has won the series three times. They are in dispute with the series' organisers over technical rules, and their colourful Ducatis may be absent from the grid next year unless a last-minute compromise is achieved.

Elsewhere, the newly-crowned MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner delighted the home crowd at Phillip Island sunday, claiming his ninth victory of the season at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Australian, who was crowned world champion for the first time with a sixth place finish in Japan three weeks ago, was third on the grid but enjoyed an excellent start, overtaking pole sitter Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi to lead at the first corner. Stoner, 22 on Tuesday, held on easily to finish 6.763 seconds ahead of his Ducati teammate Loris Capirossi, becoming the first Australian to win at Phillip Island since Mick Doohan in 1998.

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