Joint leader in the chase for the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship Tommy Hill proved the man for all conditions at Croft, running fastest in both the morning damp, and then the afternoon sun, as he dialled his Worx Crescent Suzuki into the demands of the North Yorkshire circuit ahead of the 10th round.
He put in a best lap, during free practice, of 1:21.018secs to pile the pressure onto the former two times winner of the British crown, Ryuichi Kiyonari, who may start level with Hill on points, but who ran a little over a second and six places down the practice leaderboard on his HM Plant Honda.
“With only seven races now to determine the championship it’s going to be so important to be on the podium in every race,” reflected Hill, one of the six ‘title-fighters’ going into the final Showdown phase of the series.
“To be champion you need wins as well as podiums, so you have to be consistent but nothing’s clear cut, though for me a double win would certainly go down well.”
Hill is comfortable but Kiyonari admits he needs to work on certain sections of the circuit to get back up to speed, and given his pedigree at Croft that should not be too difficult.
The Japanese star has won there on four occasions, including a double success in 2007 as he retained the title, also setting the lap record in the process.
Kiyonari’s teammate, Aussie Josh Brookes, who is only a point down on the leading duo, also has work to do, running ninth fastest on the leaderboard, and the slowest of the title fighters.
“To be honest I am not sure why the times haven’t been coming today,” Brookes explained. “I feel ok but I just couldn’t do a time to put me up where we need to be.
“I have accepted today that I wasn’t able to do the lap times and then tomorrow we need to be up there from the start so we are prepared for qualifying. I don’t see it being an issue, I just need to push harder tomorrow.”
Brookes was a split second down on Alastair Seeley aboard the Relentless Suzuki who claimed his place in the elite six with a strong performance in the previous round at Cadwell Park.
It was Seeley’s teammate Michael Laverty who ran Hill closest, putting in a late challenge to his superiority with a lap in 1:21.134secs, with Michael Rutter, twice the runner-up in the series, running within a tenth of a second of the Ulsterman as he prepared for races on a circuit that he believes is well suited to his RidersMotorcycles.com Ducati.
The six title-fighters have their own duel for supremacy, but ranged against them is a strong pack determined to out-gun them and show what might have been.
Among them is the local favourite Dan Linfoot, riding Motorpoint Yamaha, who ran fourth fastest, 1:21.659secs, just ahead of MSS Colchester Kawasaki’s Simon Andrews with James Ellison well on the pace on his Swan Easton, while his teammate Stuart Easton, who scored his maiden BSB victory in the corresponding race last year, ran 10th fastest.
Chris Burns made local knowledge count as he ran the fastest of the Mirror.co.uk BSB-EVO class riders, with a best lap of 1:23.701secs aboard his Splitlath Aprilia, just ahead of David Johnson on the Becsport/Two Wheel Tuning Suzuki.
Hudson Kennaugh, on the other Splitlath Aprilia ran third fastest, as he prepares to put his title bid back on track, starting 48 points down on Steve Brogan who tipped off his Jentin BMW during the afternoon session.