Knockhill’s reputation for producing topsy-turvy grids means the annual visit of the British Superbike Championship will guarantee thrilling racing for Sunday’s bumper crowd.
If former British Superbike champ Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne thought all he had to do was turn up at the Fife circuit, toddle round and get pole position and then leave on Sunday evening having comfortably extended his 99-point lead in the title race, he had another thing coming.
The Zurich-based former BSB champ and MotoGP rider finished today’s qualifying session on his spare Airwaves Ducati after falling foul of the conditions with just 10 minutes of qualifying remaining.
But despite crashing for only the second time this season, Byrne managed to nurse his Ducati back to his garage and starts the first of Sunday’s double-header from third on the grid.
“Obviously I would have preferred to have been on pole, but the front row of the grid does me just fine,” the 2003 champ admitted. “The start’s going to be important, especially if it’s wet. I’d rather be out in front than riding through spray.”
The man who has the greatest opportunity to lead the chasing pack down through Duffus Dip is Honda’s Leon Haslam. The 25-year-old, in his first year with the Japanese giant, splashed and slewed his way to his first pole position of the season.
“I’ve felt we’ve been getting quicker and quicker every time we’ve gone out on the circuit this weekend,” Haslam, son of grand prix great Ron, explained after clocking a best of 52.692secs on the slippery 1.3-mile circuit.
“I know we’ve managed to get a good wet set-up on the bike and hopefully we can now carry this pace through to the race tomorrow. Knockhill’s never been one of my favourite circuits, but today it’s just gone up in my estimations.
“The HM Plant Honda team have worked really hard, not just this weekend but all season so it is good to finally get a pole position,” Haslam, currently a distant fourth in the championship, continued.
“I’ve not had the best of times here and I really need wins tomorrow. There are still five rounds to go and now it is all about winning races. I just can’t wait to get going tomorrow.”
Haslam’s four-cylinder Honda edged out the Ducati of Michael Rutter by 0.274s, and while the Kirkby Mallory rider was pleased to place himself second on the grid he too is aware how important the start is.
“The start’s always important but at Knockhill, and especially in wet conditions, being first into the first corner is vital,” Rutter, who looked set to take pole with just a few minutes of the session remaining before Haslam pipped him in the final second, said. “There’s going to be a hell of a race to the first corner.”
With the Suzuki of Michael Laverty completing the front row of the grid, Cal Crutchlow — second in the championship behind Byrne — lines up in fifth and on the second row after clocking a best of 53.177s, 0.485s behind his team-mate Haslam.
Meanwhile Tom Sykes — a winner last time out at Oulton Park — lines up sixth on his Rizla Suzuki just seven days after impressing at the World Superbikes round at Brands Hatch. But the Huddersfield rider has personal reasons for wanting to do well today.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to win tomorrow because I’d love to dedicate the victory to my close friend Craig Jones who was killed in the World Superbike race at Brands last weekend,” Sykes explained.
“It’ll be tough, but I think we found something at Brands last week which hopefully we can carry forward into tomorrow. I’ve been finding it difficult in the wet conditions, but I’m pleased with the progress. Believe me, I’ll be trying my hardest to win for Craig.”