BSB: Kirkham grabs maiden BSB win in Croft Race One
JON Kirkham took his maiden MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship win in a dramatic first race at Croft Circuit this afternoon.
The Samsung Crescent Racing rider edged out team-mate John Hopkins to make it a 1-2 for the popular team at the end of a hard-fought race which saw many of the big hitters struggle.
The start of the race was initially delayed as the changable weather conditions continued to play havoc at the Darlington track, and many of the teams took unusual gambles on tyre choice.
At the green light, it was polesitter Shane 'Shakey' Byrne who got his HM Plant Honda to the front, leading the field into the first corner for the first time.
On Lap Two, the tricky Clervaux corner claimed its first victim as Jenny Tinmouth crashed out of her first ever British Superbike race on the Splitlath Motorsport Aprilia.
Byrne continued to lead from the front with the Swan Yamaha of Michael Laverty in second, but the Irishman soon fell into the clutches of a charging Hopkins at the hairpin.
Behind, Kirkham was flying, having started way back in 16th spot. By Lap Five he was up to eighth after searing past Tommy Hill's Swan Yamaha.
Lap Six saw the shock retirement of reigning champ Ryuichi Kiyonari, who would later rejoin the race a lap down, but would be unable to make any real strides forward.
Two laps later brought more drama for the HM Plant boys, as Shakey crossed the line and then pulled over with mechanical problems, his Honda machine kicking out smoke and then catching fire.
This brought out the Safety Car for a few laps, and when it pulled in three laps later, Kirkham - by now up in P2 - saw his chance and dived into the lead at Clervaux. From there, he led all the way to the chequered flag.
Although Hopkins did make one attempt on the penultimate lap, Kirkham quickly grabbed it back, and was able to keep his team-mate behind him all the way home.
"I honestly can't believe it; that was the scariest race of my life in terms of deciding on tyres and the changing conditions but what a race," he said. "I was lucky to be fair with the pace car as it gave me the chance to close the gap up and it was pretty loose out there. I had a few moments and John was riding amazingly, pushing me all the way.
"This was a fantastic result as we had such a hard start to the weekend, missing a lot of time with an issue but now I just want to get on with race two."
Gary Mason took a well-deserved third place, with the Motorpoint Honda of Loris Baz sneaking ahead of Alex Lowes in the last lap to take fourth.
Lowes crossed the line in a solid fifth place, to take another BSB-Evo win for the WFR Squad.
There were numerous retirements in the race, including Michael Laverty on Lap 15, Chris Walker, Scott Smart and Bishop Auckland's Barry Burrell
MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship, Croft, race one top 10:
1. Jon Kirkham (Samsung Crescent Racing)
2. John Hopkins (Samsung Crescent Racing) +2.940s
3. Gary Mason (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +3.715s
4. Loris Baz (Motorpoint Yamaha) +13.335s
5. Alex Lowes (WFR Honda) +14.699s
6. Stuart Easton (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +19.433s
7. Peter Hickman (Tyco Honda) +22.455s
8. Josh Brookes (Relentless Suzuki) +24.297s
9. Glen Richards (WFR Honda) +26.063s
10. Tommy Bridewell (Tyco Honda) +27.747s