Motorcycling: Hislop responds to pressure

Catherine Riley sees a revitalised rider make the running in the relaxed setting of Mallory Park in yesterday's round of the British Superbike Championship
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The Independent Online
"Different sponsors, different colours, but it's great to be back. I have a point to prove." So said Steve Hislop before yesterday's seventh round of the Motor Cycle News British Superbike Championship here.

As far as British motorsport is concerned, Mallory Park is far removed from the glamour of Silverstone yet, set in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside, the circuit has a curious and peculiarly British charm.

There are no pricey grandstands here: it is just pounds 12 to get in plus an extra pounds 2 if you wish to amble up and down the paddock where any one of the thousands of spectators in full race-replica leathers could be a competitor.

Spectators lounged in the sun on grassy banks which provide natural terracing and fine views of the action. Bikers mingled happily with pensioners, multi-coloured leather with multi-coloured deckchairs.

There are no huge motor homes on the British Superbike circuit, no giant television screens and no huge hospitality tents, just caravans, a small funfair and the British Bacon Bar. The Crunchie Wingwalkers instead of the Red Arrows. All this is reminiscent of a day out at the seaside in times gone by.

If Hislop's ride on the green Kawasaki had contributed to the unaccustomed look to the grid, Sean Emmett's appearance in pole position was the bigger surprise. The GSE Ducati rider took the top spot for the first time in Britain since 1992 after four years riding in the 500cc grand prix series.

Next to him was the championship leader and defending champion, Niall Mackenzie. His Cadbury's Boost Yamaha team-mate Chris Walker was left looking at his rear tyre on the row behind after a couple of high-speed crashes on Saturday.

But perhaps the most surprising figure on the front row was Hislop. Despite winning this championship two years ago, Hislop has had a torrid time since and earlier this month he was sacked by the Reve Red Bull Ducati team after a series of disappointing performances that culminated in 12th and 18th places at Thruxton.

The absence of Kawasaki's No1 rider, Terry Rymer, who was in Japan for the Suzuka eight-hour race, meant that his ride was offered to Hislop and with the Kawasaki team-manager, Colin Wright, considering a three- man set-up for the rest of the season the pressure was on.

Hislop started as if his life depended on reaching the first corner in front, unlike Mackenzie who started as if he would be happy merely to reach the first bend. His team- mate, Iain MacPherson, followed him, with Jim Moodie, riding a Crescent Suzuki, third.

On the third lap, Emmett seemed to drift by the two Kawasakis and into the lead, with Mackenzie still struggling in sixth place. But slowly Mackenzie began to reel in the leaders, flashing by Hislop on the straight out of Gerard's. He had his sights on Emmett, who had opened up a one and a half second gap, and on the 16th lap the Englishman saw the purple Yamaha of Mackenzie pulling past him and into the lead on the way into the hairpin.

The real battle, however, was taking place between the two Kawasakis. While Hislop was concentrating on his own agenda, McPherson was determined to prove that in Rymer's absence he was a more than capable deputy.

When Emmett eased off on the final straight on the last lap the two Kawasakis seized their chance and McPherson just pipped Hislop for second place - his highest finish - making it a Scottish one-two-three on the podium.

Mackenzie again failed to get a decisive lead off the line in the second race, and it was Emmett who lead at the end of the first lap. By the end of the second, however, the positions were reversed. Buoyed by his third place in the first round, Hislop was riding as if inspired. He passed Emmett on the second attempt going into Lake Esses and shortly afterwards Emmett's race was over, a puff of blue smoke an early indication that all was not well with his Ducati, which expired at the hairpin.

The two leading riders were opening up a considerable gap over the chasing pack led by Walker, and Hislop eased back, content to consolidate his second place. Following a certain amount of barging which resulted in McPherson and his Kawasaki parting company, followed by Graham Ward, the race was stopped after 17 laps.

Walker was delighted with his third place while his victorious team-mate Mackenzie, who equalled Jamie Whitham's record of six wins on the trot, was equally pleased without being complacent about his seemingly unstoppable charge to retain his title, his lead extended to 74 points. The spotlight, though, remained firmly on Hislop.