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A bumper crowd flooded into Thruxton Circuit for the sixth round of the 2016 MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship (BSB), and they were rewarded with a spellbinding spectacle of high-octane two-wheeled thrills.
BSB rookie James Rispoli swapped superbikes for America's cup super-yacht. The Yamaha ace treated Japanese sailor Yugo Yoshida to a high-speed pillion ride around Thruxton and was then shown the ropes by SoftBank Team Japan in Portsmouth.
Ahead of the MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship (BSB) race meeting at Thruxton (22-24 July), riders James Rispoli and John 'Hopper' Hopkins got a taste for life on the high seas with a visit to the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series in nearby Portsmouth.
BSB and the America's Cup might be two very different sporting disciplines, but they are united by the common themes of speed and precision. The fun began when SoftBank Team Japan yachtsman Yugo Yoshida set sail for Thruxton -- the fastest circuit in Britain, where Superbike competitors reach almost 200mph -- for an adrenaline-fuelled pillion ride with Rispoli aboard a 1,000cc Yamaha R1 road bike.
When he removed his helmet afterwards, the 32-year-old Olympian -- the first Japanese sailor in 15 years to join an America's Cup team -- could scarcely wipe the smile off his face.
"That was very different to anything I've ever done before and an amazing opportunity!" 'Yoshi' enthused. "It was incredibly quick and an awesome experience and, I have to admit, a little scary too!
"It really gave me an appreciation for the bravery and skill required to ride at those speeds -- let alone race. The G-forces were a real eye-opener and although I always felt safe, it was also very much on-the-edge. The only problem is, I think I might have caught the bug now..."
The following day, Rispoli together with countryman and fellow Yamaha rider Hopkins headed for Portsmouth as guests of SoftBank Team Japan -- the Japanese challenger for the 35th America's Cup, to be held in Bermuda in 2017.
There, the duo met team CEO and winning America's Cup skipper Dean Barker and exchanged jerseys, before Rispoli took to the water for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as a guest racer aboard the team yacht. Rispoli was palpably impressed by what he saw.
"It was cool to take 'Yoshi' out on the bike and to give him the BSB treatment at Thruxton with a blast around the track," grinned the two-time AMA Superbike Champion. "He seemed to really enjoy himself, and it was awesome to see his reaction afterwards.
"Then the boat ride was like nothing I'd ever done before. It was every bit as intense as racing a superbike, and the choreography between the crew members was just crazy! Even though it was only a practice run, with all the other teams out there it felt like a real race and we were literally threading the needle all the time.
"The wind comes out of nowhere and just hits you, and I think the coolest thing for me was that I was able to understand the way it all worked without knowing the rules. It really was something else -- big thanks to SoftBank Team Japan for such an amazing opportunity."
Championship leader Shane 'Shakey' Byrne storms to 46th career pole but local star Tommy Bridewell stuns on home soil with second-place start Thousands of fans soaked up the sun and enjoyed a dazzling display of MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship (BSB) action today (23 July), as championship leader Shane 'Shakey' Byrne maintained his momentum by snatching pole position and local favourite Tommy Bridewell thrilled the Thruxton faithful with a standout qualifying show.
On a hot summer's day at the high-speed Hampshire circuit, the grandstands and spectator banks soon filled up -- and everybody who attended was treated to a superb spectacle of flat-out precision from the BSB heroes and no-holds-barred racing from a wide variety of support series.
Having paced the field in every practice session and posted the fastest-ever two-wheeled lap around Thruxton in FP3, Be Wiser Ducati's Byrne was the hot tip heading into qualifying - and the four-time champion did not disappoint. Quickest throughout the opening two phases, he was the last to take to the track in the all-important Superpole shoot-out and duly annexed his 46th career pole position - despite admitting to a somewhat scrappy effort.
"I actually made a few mistakes on my Superpole lap, and after getting myself back together, I then went and out-braked myself into the final chicane!" he reflected. "It wasn't the best lap I've ever produced by a long stretch, but it was good enough. I really like this place -- the track just unwinds in front of you -- and the Ducati seems to be phenomenal around here."
Behind 'Shakey', there was an enthralling scrap for best-of-the-rest, in which Wiltshire-born Bridewell narrowly prevailed to secure a hugely popular second spot on the grid -- comfortably his best start of the 2016 campaign, and a timely boost to the Bennetts Suzuki rider's hopes of making the end-of-season Showdown.
"I love coming to Thruxton -- it takes me just 28 minutes flat to get here!" he joked. "Seriously, though, it's a mega place. It's the fastest circuit in the country and a lot of fun to ride, the sun's out and I've got all the local fans here supporting me -- what could be better?!"
Just four thousandths-of-a-second adrift of Bridewell was Honda Racing's Dan Linfoot, as the former 250cc GP competitor reprised his front-running practice pace, with Quattro Plant Teccare Kawasaki's Luke Mossey, Tyco BMW's Michael Laverty and Buildbase BMW Motorrad's Lee Jackson completing the top six.
"I've never really been a great qualifier," confessed Linfoot, "so I'll definitely take a front row start! It leaves us in with a shout of going with the boys at the front in the race."
Amongst the big names to be found considerably further down the grid for race one where Christian Iddon (Tyco BMW) in 14th, title protagonist Leon Haslam (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) in 15th, multiple former champion Ryuichi Kiyonari (Bennetts Suzuki) in 16th and current Showdown contender Richard Cooper (Buildbase BMW Motorrad) in 17th, with ex-MotoGP star James Ellison (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) a surprising early casualty in 23rd.
Beyond the headlining BSB thrills, there was no shortage of lights-to-flag entertainment from the plethora of support series, with frenetic racing in the Dickies British Supersport Championship, Ducati TriOptions Cup, HEL Performance British Motostar Championship and Hyundai Heavy Industries British Sidecars in association with Molson.
Shane 'Shakey' Byrne and Michael Laverty lift the laurels at Thruxton as throngs of fans are treated to flat-out action around Britain's fastest circuit. Local riders Leon Morris and Jake Archer standout in support series.
As the sun continued to shine, fans flocked to the popular Hampshire track -- the quickest in the country -- expecting to be entertained and true to form, Thruxton did not disappoint as its fast, flowing nature encouraged stunning slipstreaming scraps right the way through the field.
After storming to a commanding pole position in qualifying, championship leader Shane 'Shakey' Byrne was similarly a force to be reckoned with in race one -- although it was not made easy for him. After pulling clear of his pursuers in the opening laps, a red flag stoppage for an accident back in the pack gave his competitors the opportunity to redress the balance -- and Michael Laverty took full advantage.
The Tyco BMW rider got the hole-shot at the re-start, but after two laps, Byrne was back in front and thereafter went unchallenged all the way to the chequered flag as he notched up his fourth victory of the campaign.
"I worked quite hard at the first start to establish a decent lead, after which I tried to manage my tyres and look after everything," 'Shakey' reflected. "Michael got away slightly better than me at the re-start, but once I passed him, I got my head down - although maybe I pushed a little too much, as it seemed to punish my tyres and the last couple of laps got a bit sketchy!"
Laverty held on to secure the runner-up spoils ahead of Quattro Plant Teccare Kawasaki rider Luke Mossey, who snared his second podium of the year.
Behind them, a freight train of riders delighted spectators as they enthusiastically exchanged positions. Local lad Tommy Bridewell (Bennetts Suzuki) dropped down the order early on but recovered to finish fourth ahead of ex-MotoGP ace James Ellison -- an impressive performance from the JG Speedfit Kawasaki star, who had begun all the way down in 23rd on the grid -- and Honda Racing's Jason O'Halloran.
As grip decreased in the closing stages, amongst those to fade were JG Speedfit Kawasaki's title protagonist Leon Haslam (13th), FS-3 Racing's Billy McConnell (22nd) and Honda Racing's Dan Linfoot (DNF).
The onset of rain delayed the start of race two, and when the action did get underway, Byrne's dominance was swiftly undone by gear lever problems that forced the Be Wiser Ducati rider out of contention -- and proved to be the catalyst for a palpitating scrap for supremacy between Laverty, O'Halloran and Haslam, the latter clearly keen to make hay with his chief rival in trouble.
After duelling it out over several laps, Laverty eventually broke away from O'Halloran to take his first victory since the season curtain-raiser back in April. Despite becoming increasingly ragged as the laps ticked down, the Honda man held on for second, whilst Byrne's rookie team-mate Glenn Irwin got the better of Haslam late on to clinch a well-deserved breakthrough BSB rostrum. Mossey, Haslam and Peter Hickman (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) completed the top six.
"Coming here, we knew we needed to get back into Showdown contention," Laverty mused. "We've been fast enough to fight for the podium and race wins everywhere this year, but we've just been very unlucky, so it's nice to get a double podium today around a circuit that isn't traditionally the strongest for our bike.
"'Shakey' has shown awesome pace all weekend -- after qualifying, I joked that they may as well give him the trophies there and then! It was fantastic to even get close to him, and the team has done a great job. I had to ride patiently this afternoon which is not easy to do, but it worked a treat. I'm chuffed with what we've achieved!"
There was local success in the support categories, finally, with Andover's Jake Archer roaring to the rostrum in the HEL Performance British Motostar Championship and Leon Morris from Stockbridge tallying a victory and runner-up finish in the Ducati TriOptions Cup to remain firmly in the hunt for the coveted crown.