Australian Josh Brookes set the pace in opening free practice for the triple race eighth round of the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch on Friday, but the HM Plant Honda rider was hard pressed by Tom Sykes, making a one-off return to domestic action from his World Superbike commitments.
Brookes worked hard across both sessions on the Kent Grand Prix circuit to dial in his bike for what he intends to bring him the hat-trick of victories that he came close to achieving in the previous round at Snetterton but apart from his rivals for the crown, the Aussie now knows that he faces tough challenges from Sykes riding the factory Kawasaki in the races.
There was only 0.139 between them at the top of the leaderboard, and with both Ryuichi Kiyonari and Michael Rutter, who had run fastest in the morning session, in close contention, third and fourth fastest, the predictions are for fiercely fought races.
This weekend’s races come at a crucial time in the series in which only the top six riders, after the next round at Cadwell Park go forward into the ‘Showdown’ for the title.
The title stakes are led at the moment by Worx Crescent Suzuki rider Tommy Hill, who had started his campaign with a victory at his local circuit back in April, but, his return did not bring him much good fortune, with both sickness and handling problems slowing him to a distant 19th on the leaderboard, and some 1.611secs down on the best lap of Brookes, set by the Honda rider in 1:26.582.
Michael Laverty and his Relentless Suzuki by TAS teammate Alastair Seeley were separated by only 0.002 as they ran just ahead of seventh fastest James Ellison aboard the Swan Honda – the Cumbrian rider is among the dozen riders who have a mathematical chance of making the top six.
Yukio Kagayama ran eighth on the second Worx Crescent Suzuki, some two tenths up on MSS Colchester Kawasaki’s Gary Mason while Ian Lowry, answering a late call to ride the second of the Kawasaki World Superbikes completed the top 10.
John Laverty, riding Buildbase Kawasaki, was sandwiched in between Motorpoint Yamaha riders Andrew Pitt and Dan Linfoot while Stuart Easton, aboard the second Swan Honda, was working on settings, and looking for ways to peg back the 1.262 by which he trails Brookes, to boost his hopes of making the top six in the points standings.
Steve Brogan, riding Jentin BMW, underlined his determination to tighten his grip on the chase for the Mirror.co.uk BSB-EVO class crown by running fastest in class, some 0.739 faster than his rival Hudson Kennaugh aboard the Splitlath Aprilia. Craig Fitzpatrick, riding the Close Print Finance Honda, ran third fastest.
Fuchs-Silkolene British Supersport Championship leader Sam Lowes set the fastest time in the second free practice session at Brands Hatch, taking the top spot from CAME Yamaha’s James Westmoreland.
Westmoreland had been fastest in the opening free practice, but this afternoon as the times tumbled the GNS Racing Honda team were back on top after stealing the advantage in the final stages of the session.
Luke Mossey was running third for the last part of the session before crashing out at Stirlings in the final minute to drop to fourth as PTR Honda’s Graeme Gowland powered into third with Gearlink Kawasaki’s Ben Wilson rounding out the top five.
Top Aussie was Billy McConnell in eighth, Glen Richards was 10th and Jason O’Halloran was 12th fastest on Friday.
Current ASBK points leader Bryan Staring was 10th quickest in the opening Superstock 1000 qualifying session of the weekend in his guest ride for HM Plant Honda.