Kawasaki’s Leon Haslam scored a double victory at Assen to move to within 17 points of Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne, enough to take the championship fight to the wire.
In an incredible opening race Haslam beat his title rival Byrne to the finish line by just 0.010s in a hard-fought contest which opened the penultimate round of the season at Assen.
At the start of the race James Ellison initially led the pack from pole-sitter Byrne with Luke Mossey, Jason O’Halloran and Haslam all in close contention. Mossey was instantly on the move and the young contender dived through ahead of Ellison to lead mid-way through the opening lap, but as they crossed the line he had repaid the move to regain the position.
By lap three Mossey was leading the field from Ellison and Byrne, but the pair were pushing him hard and both went for a move within three corners a few laps later to push him back into third place. Byrne then was hounding Ellison and made a decisive move on lap seven to take the advantage.
Byrne led the pack as they streamed across the line to start the eighth lap, but Haslam was then the rider moving through the field as he first attacked Mossey and then moved second with a dive on his team-mate.
By lap ten Byrne and Haslam were dicing intensely for the advantage and Haslam hit the front of the front of the pack with Ellison making it a JG Speedfit Kawasaki one-two as they pushed Byrne back into third place.
Ellison then traded blows with his team-mate as he made a big move on the eleventh lap to lead the field, but Haslam fought back to lead with a move at the chicane.
A lap later and Byrne moved around the outside of Ellison and then made a move on Haslam at the front to move back into the lead. On the penultimate lap though Haslam and Byrne were pushing each other all the way to the finish, with multiple passes before the JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider narrowly won the drag to the line, with Ellison completing the podium.
Haslam was determined to maintain his momentum into race two in his bid to close Byrne in the standings and keep the Be Wiser Ducati in his wheel tracks.
At the start pole-sitter Jason O’Halloran fired the Honda Fireblade to the front of the field from Dan Linfoot, James Ellison and Haslam. Meanwhile championship leader Byrne was languishing outside the top ten in twelfth place after a bad start off the second row.
Ellison was instantly attacking hard and he moved up into second to split the Honda Racing team-mates. Haslam was ready to follow Ellison up the order and a lap later he also moved ahead of Linfoot as O’Halloran was forced to surrender the lead to Ellison.
Ellison’s lead was short lived as Haslam dived ahead a lap later, only for Ellison to retaliate with a move which put him back at the front of the field. A few corners later though and the JG Speedfit Kawasaki paint-swapping continued as Ellison regained control.
Honda Racing’s O’Halloran then moved back into second on the fifth lap, with Haslam holding the lead ahead of the Australian and a chasing pack of Ellison, Linfoot, Luke Mossey and Richard Cooper.
By lap six Byrne was up to seventh and desperately trying to fight his way through the pack to regain the positions, but at the front O’Halloran retook the lead only for Haslam to instantly fire a counter attack just a few corners later but across the line the Honda Racing Fireblade was narrowly ahead.
O’Halloran was clinging onto the lead before Haslam once again hit the front with Ellison then also pushing him back a further place into third as Byrne surged up the pack to be fourth by the 14th lap.
The leading quartet was Haslam, Ellison, O’Halloran and Byrne with Linfoot, Mossey and Cooper pushing for any opportunity to make a move. O’Halloran was able to make another pass on lap 15 to split the JG Speedfit Kawasakis.
Ellison was then dropping down the order but at the front Haslam was holding off O’Halloran and an incoming Byrne who had clawed his way into contention for a podium finish and moved into third with two laps remaining.
On the penultimate lap Byrne was up to second and the last two laps came down to a dogfight between the pair, but the ‘Pocket Rocket’ had the edge at the finish despite the best efforts of his Be Wiser Ducati rival with O’Halloran completing the podium trio.
Speaking after the races, Haslam said: Haslam said: “This was a great weekend for me with two wins, especially after throwing it away in the race at Donington. I only have had one crash in a race this year and I waited until the first race in the Showdown so I am happy with this result and we keep our heads held high.
“We have a few areas we still need to work on; we had two seconds at Brands Hatch before even with some problems but I feel that we have moved on since then. I am feeling pretty good for the final round; from my perspective Shakey smoked me in my back yard at Donington Park and now I want to do the same to him at his! This is what the championship is all about – giving it everything we have got.”