Leon Haslam and JG Speedfit Kawasaki maintained their lead in the 2018 Bennetts British Superbike Championship this weekend (14th to 16th September) after two determined rides into second and third place at Oulton Park, resulting in a 31-point advantage ahead of the penultimate round.
During a strong opening day at the Cheshire venue on Friday both Leon and team-mate Luke Mossey ran inside the top ten in wet and dry conditions. And with good weather once more for qualifying on Saturday afternoon, both riders were again hopeful of performing well.
However, while Luke went on to take a brilliant third, it was disaster for Leon as a technical issue at the start of his second lap meant he had to pull in and with no time recorded, he was forced to start Sunday’s first 18-lap race from the back of the grid.
The riders faced treacherous conditions as the rain fell but it had eased off by the time race one finally got under way, although it was cut to 16 laps. Luke completed the first lap in eighth and Leon, amazingly, in 11th. From that moment on, Leon continually advanced forward and at half-race distance was up to fourth as Luke circulated in ninth.
Two laps later, Luke’s race came to an unfortunate and abrupt end, when he crashed at Shell Oils Corner but Leon continued to press on ahead as he closed in on a podium position.
Indeed, aided by the fourth fastest lap of the race, he moved into third with two laps left to clinch a crucial podium position as closest Championship rival Jake Dixon took the race win.
In the second race later in the day Leon started from fourth place and the second row with Luke, thankfully uninjured in his spill, further back on this occasion in ninth and the third row with the weather conditions a lot more favourable this time around.
Dixon led from the start, opening up a formidable looking 5.4 second lead as early as lap seven but by then Leon was up into second and set about closing the gap. With Dixon struggling with tyre issues for the final third of the race, Leon reduced the gap by almost three-quarters of a second a lap but despite his valiant effort he fell short by just 1.1 seconds, although another podium position ensured he maintained a healthy lead in the championship with five races to go.
Luke, meanwhile, bounced back well from his first race crash and was a lot more at home in the dry conditions. He ran inside the top eight for the entire race and was part of a five-rider battle for the final podium position. He eventually finished in seventh place which puts him in confident mood heading into the final two rounds.
Leon Haslam said: “I wanted to continue my winning streak here at Oulton but with what happened on Saturday in qualifying, a third and second doesn’t sound too bad.
“Race one was difficult, the visibility coming from 23rd on the grid was really tough, there were a few areas I had to push on but I had to be really cautious on where I was and think third was the most I was ever going to get.
“I thought I had the pace in the wet and dry to challenge for a win. Jake had really good pace early on and I managed to pull back a six or seven second gap in the second race, but I just didn’t have enough laps to push for the win. It took me a bit too long to get past the other guys and there were a few damp patches that stopped me taking risks early on.
“Now I’m looking forward to the final two races at Assen and Brands.”
Luke Mossey said: “I was really pleased with how the weekend was going, we qualified on the front row and it was good to be back in the mix. It was so wet for the opening race that you just had to be a little careful, but it still caught me out and I crashed out.
“The second race was dry and I was looking forward to getting in a battle at the front. I felt good but my tyres started to go off in the closing stages and I could only salvage seventh.
“I really like Assen, so it would be great to fight for a podium there.”
Team Manager Jack Valentine added: “It’s been an interesting weekend, we had a tough time in qualifying for Leon which meant he had to start from the back of the grid. Meanwhile, Luke had a great qualifying session to finish on the front row in third.
“Leon rode exceptionally well in race one, he came from the back of the grid to finish on the podium which was fantastic. He was placed in fourth for race two on the grid but got caught behind a few riders at the start. Jake Dixon got away at the front and it just took a bit longer to get past some of the riders and we just didn’t have enough laps.
“To come away with a third and second after what happened we can’t complain. We still have a healthy lead and there are still five races to go.
“Luke was unfortunate to crash out in the opening race where he was running in a solid position. I thought we might have got a fourth or a fifth in the second race but he had a few issues with tyres and dropped back to seventh.
“We are looking forward to Assen and are hopeful that we can get back to the winning ways again.”
The series now moves to Assen, Holland with the penultimate round taking place from 28thto 30thSeptember.