Race one for British Superbikes at Oulton Park got underway in blistering Cheshire heat on what was the hottest early-May bank holiday on record. The heat meant that the soft rear tyre was a must, and for the majority, medium fronts were the order of the day. The heat also meant that grip was at a premium, and there were several crashes early on, with Michael Laverty crashing out on the first lap at Lodge, Glenn Irwin joining him on the side lines not too much later at Island Bend, and many more falling victim to the greasy Oulton asphalt.
But it was Jake Dixon who grabbed the early lead at turn one, and he kept it for most of the race, unchallenged. But, with about five laps to go, Leon Haslam made his move at Lodge corner on the inside and began to stretch away from the RAF Regular and Reserves Kawasaki. The two were out front on their own thanks to a fairly large gap that appeared between the then second-placed Haslam and third-placed Brad Ray, when Irwin hit the deck. After Haslam took the lead away from Dixon, he took minimal amounts of time out of the youngster over the final laps, and eventually won with a gap close to one second. It was Haslam’s second consecutive win, and first dry weather victory of the season – one that catapulted him to second in the championship. A welcome result, then, for Haslam, after struggling in the dry at least with the JG Speedfit Kawasaki in the first two rounds of the season.
The second place of Jake Dixon was an important one too. It had not been a spectacular start to the number 27’s season with results below his expectations in Donington and race one at Brands Indy, and a crash in the second race at round two. This result in a way, marks the proper start of Dixon’s season and it seems the first 2018 victory is not too far away for him. It will be interesting to see whether he can go one better in race two.
Shane Byrne took third place, after a tough move on Jason O’Halloran at Hizzy’s chicane towards the end of the race. The move allowed him to quickly set his sights on Bradley Ray, who was seemingly struggling with rear grip towards the end. His overtake on Ray was somewhat less on the limit than the one with O’Halloran; clean as you like, in fact, and after that the Suzuki rider had no response, giving Byrne an important podium in the quest for podium points ahead of the Showdown. The podium was not enough for Shakey to hold second in the championship, which went to Haslam, but the 41-year-old is now just seven points off the top of the championship. After the race he complained of chatter, and it will be that which he and his PBM Ducati team will seek to fix for the second race.
Brad Ray came home in fourth. He made a great start from ninth, but got very detached after the crash of Irwin which happened directly in front of him. It looked from quite an early stage as though he was struggling with the rear tyre, but that could just have been him pushing on trying to keep Byrne and O’Halloran behind, whilst catching the leaders. Ultimately, he failed on two out of three counts, and will hope to have a better pace in the second race. Interestingly, Ray was the only Suzuki rider to choose the hard front tyre, everyone else was on the soft front. Whether that could be the difference maker this afternoon remains to be seen, but Ray will be keen to return to the podium to continue to build his tally of those all-important podium points.
O’Halloran took fifth place. After the move Byrne put on him, he became very detached from Shakey and Ray. To compound that, his CBR1000RR Fireblade developed a gearbox issue towards the end of the race. The positive for O’Halloran is that before the incident with Byrne he had a good pace, so he has something to build on for race two.
Josh Brookes took his best dry result of the season so far in sixth place. With that in mind, his claims of progress in the Oulton Park test just over one week ago are valid, but he also clearly still has more work to do to be able to challenge for podiums and victories.
Seventh place went to Danny Buchan on the FS-3 Kawasaki, ahead of Tommy Bridewell’s Halsall Suzuki, Tarran Mackenzie’s McAMS Yamaha and Richard Cooper’s Buildbase Suzuki. Mackenzie’s ride was impressive in just his fifth BSB start, and at a circuit where he has been struggling somewhat through the weekend, and also at the test. There is a lot of potential in Taz Mackenzie on a superbike, and it could be quite frightening when he begins to unlock more of it.
After a first lap excursion at Hizzy’s that dropped him to pretty much the very back of the pack, James Ellison took eleventh place, although he will be eager to improve a lot on that in race two after a difficult start to the season, if he wants to make the Showdown. Ryuichi Kiyonari perhaps surprised a few people with his twelfth-place finish on his BSB return, replacing Dan Linfoot. He was battling for most of the race with Gino Rea (13th) and Jakub Smrz (14th), ahead of Mason Law who took the final point, and his first in BSB.
The first of the non-point-scorers to cross the line was Sylvain Barrier, ahead of Dean Harrison who has had a cracking weekend, Martin Jessopp who would have been in the points but had a big off-track moment towards the end of the race at Cascades, David Johnson, Shaun Winfield and Connor Cummins, who was the 21st and last finisher, on his first outing on the new Fireblade as he prepares for the big road races coming up.
Retirements were aplenty, with Luke Mossey having a fairly large tip off at Druids, Taylor Mackenzie falling at Lodge, Glenn Irwin (aforementioned) crashing out at Island, Carl Phillips going down, Peter Hickman getting away with a high-side at Cascades, Kyle Ryde who made the Craig Fitzpatrick Yamaha a fixture of the local forestry at Druids and finally Michael Laverty (aforementioned) who crashed at the end of lap one.
The track temperature for race two should be somewhat cooler than for the first race of the day, so the casualty count should be smaller in the second outing. But the big question is whether anyone can challenge Leon Haslam, and whether it can be someone other than Jake Dixon.