Shane Byrne signaled his intentions for the 2011 season by winning the opening round of the British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch.
The HM Plant Honda rider, making a return to the series after a two-year absence, was forced to work hard for the victory in an eventful race one at the 1.2-mile Kent circuit.
Byrne started from pole position and he held the advantage on the opening lap ahead of team mate Ryuichi Kiyonari and Swan Yamaha's Michael Laverty. But the Kent man soon found himself under attack, as Laverty surged passed Kiyonari and the Northern Irishman then grabbed the lead on lap two.
The top-three were soon joined by the other Swan Yamaha rider Tommy Hill to make it a four-way battle for the lead. However, the quartet soon returned to a trio when Kiyonari pulled off the circuit at Paddock Hill Bend on lap eight, and was forced into retirement with a mechanical problem.
Further down the field former MotoGP star John Hopkins found out how tough it is to race at Brands Hatch, as he visited the gravel trap at Druids. He rejoined the race and recovered to finish in 17th place.
The race took a decisive twist as the leaders completed lap 11. Leader Laverty was thrown into a huge high side on the exit of Clark curve, resulting in immediate retirement. Byrne and Swan Yamaha team mate Hill were forced to take evasive action, which allowed MSS Colchester Kawasaki rider Stuart Easton to move into the lead. Laverty's accident brought out the safety car which neutralised the race, with Easton leading from Byrne, Frenchman Loris Baz and Relentless Suzuki rider Josh Brookes. Hill recovered from the gravel but rejoined the race in 11th place.
Once the race resumed, Byrne soon grabbed the lead from Easton and set his sights on pulling away from the field. Brookes capitalised and moved into second spot passing Baz and Easton, before he was the victim of a spectacular high side at Paddock Hill Bend. Brookes suffered concussion from the accident and was ruled out of race two.
While Byrne was pulling away from the field, Hill became a man on a mission and he found himself in fourth place with five laps remaining. The Beckenham-born rider set his sights on a podium finish and it didn't take long for him to pass Michael Rutter and Easton to move into second.
But the race victory belonged to Byrne as he took the chequered flag after 30 laps ahead of Hill. Tyco Honda's Tommy Bridewell grabbed the final podium place with a last gasp move on Easton at the final corner. Former HM Plant Honda rider Glen Richards won the EVO class.
British Superbike Championship, Brands Hatch, race one result:
1.Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda)
2.Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha) +1.154s
3.Tommy Bridewell (Tyco Honda) +2.667s
4.Stuart Easton (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) +2.764s
5.Jon Kirkham (Samsung Crescent Racing) +3.408s
6.Michael Rutter (Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati) +4.310s
7.Loris Baz (Motorpoint Yamaha) +4.496s
8.Dan Linfoot (Sorrymate.com Honda) +5.090s
9.Martin Jessopp (Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati) +5.100s
10. Chris Walker (Pr1mo Racing Kawasaki) +7.728s