The 2012 MCE Insurance British Superbike Championship got off to a dramatic start as Jon Kirkham snatched victory from Alastair Seeley within sight of the chequered flag. The pair, along with Michael Rutter, were supreme in torrential conditions but Kirkham prevailed in a finish strikingly similar to the unforgettable title decider at this circuit last October.
The track was soaking wet when the red light went out and four bikes had fallen within two corners of the start. Florian Marino lost control of his Splitlath Aprilia rounding Paddock Hill bend, taking Graeme Gowland with him into the gravel trap, while Michael Laverty was unseated from his Samsung Honda at Druids, wiping out Patric Muff in the process.
The mayhem brought out the safety car and Shane Byrne led the queue after a fast start from the front row. Kirkham maintained second with Josh Brookes dropping from pole to third and Rutter overtaking Tristan Palmer for fourth.
Kirkham hit the front within two laps of the restart, diving up the inside of Byrne's Kawasaki into Druids, and Rutter followed him through a lap later. Byrne seemed to taking a cautious approach and was falling back into the pack. His grip on third was released by the rampant Seeley on lap ten and the Ulsterman was sniffing a possible victory from 13th on the grid.
Seeley joined the leading group in double quick time but he needn't have bothered as the safety car closed the pack up once again on lap 14. Luca Scassa had crashed spectacularly at Paddock Hill and Dan Linfoot had also gone down at Druids, necessitating a caution period as the debris was cleared.
When the race resumed, Seeley continued his charge through the field and took second from Rutter at Paddock Hill bend. The Ulsterman then took the lead in his first BSB race for 18 months on lap 22 with a smooth overtaking move into Druids. Tyco Suzuki's delight was tempered slightly moments later as Josh Brookes went straight on at Graham Hill. The polesitter had overtaken Byrne for fourth but his slip-up demoted him to tenth.
Kirkham regrouped after losing the lead and kept the pressure on Seeley as they began the final lap. Seeley looked calm enough but rounding the final corner, the back end of the Suzuki GSX-R1000 stepped out and he was unable to carry enough speed onto the home straight. Kirkham capitalised and sneaked up the inside to reach the finish line 0.136s seconds in front of Seeley. Rutter was just half a second further back to claim 16 points for third.
Ian Lowry was one of several riders to get stronger as the race went on and he overtook Byrne for fourth in the closing stages. 'Shakey' looked set for a safe fifth but lost ground on the final lap to end up seventh, with Gary Mason and Tommy Bridewell getting past him. James Westmoreland took eighth ahead of debutant Freddy Foray while Brookes rounded out the top ten.
Defending champions Swan Yamaha made a terrible start to the season with Noriyuki Haga scoring their only points for 13th. The Japanese rider was left standing on the start line and ended up in the midfield throughout the race. Tommy Hill spent the race on the fringes of the points and couldn't break into the top 15 before falling at Graham Hill.