The opening round of the Rapid Solicitors Ducati 848 Challenge played out in front of a sun-baked Brands Hatch crowd with Hampshire’s Leon Morris winning both closely contested races.
In race one Morris lead the field into Paddock Hill with Cheetham close on his tail followed by Edwards and a hastily patched up Fry who had suffered a heavy crash in qualifying. Cheetham quickly dropped back as the lead group set a challenging pace with ex-National Superstock-man Gilbertson closing the gap to form a thrilling five-way battle.
Edwards was now putting the pressure on Morris and by lap six had moved into the lead. The race had become a four way battle with Edwards, Morris, Fry and Gilbertson all vying for the lead. A costly missed gear around Clearways allowed Edwards and then Fry to pass Morris, and it was Edwards who lead at the half way stage. Morris wasn’t giving up though and moved back into first place on the twelfth lap, and despite concerted pressure from Edwards, Morris took the chequered flag. Feeling the effects of his qualifying crash, Fry faded towards the end and so it was Gilbertson who took third on his Ducati 848EVO.
Race Two saw the grid line up in the order of the fastest laps from Race 1, so Morris was in pole with Gilbertson, Edwards, and Fry alongside him on the front row.
Morris again led the field from the start, with Fry, Gilbertson, and Edwards settling in right behind him. Still suffering from his earlier crash, Fry was unable to hold off the challenge from the two bikes behind him, as Cheetham, Poll, and Jordan continued to stick with this leading group. Now getting into his stride on the 848, Gilbertson slipped into the lead on lap four and put three tenths on Morris by the end of the lap, while his team mate, Hasler, also moved up the placings on the same lap.
The competitive, close racing was to see Morris and Gilbertson swap places several times, before Gilbertson crashed out on Graham Hill Bend losing the front as both he and Morris went for the same racing line. Edwards was now again Morris’s nearest rival, while Fry consolidated third place without the strength now to push the leading two riders.
Although unable to stick with the front group, Cheetham had put some space between him and a second group of Poll, Brown, Skipper, and Ivanov, with another tight group of Jordan, Holden and Hopkins chasing hard. Despite a late Edwards charge on the last lap, Morris held on for his second win of the weekend, with Fry taking third and Cheetham fourth.
Reflecting on his two race wins, Morris said: “It’s been a fantastic weekend for myself and the team. We made a very late decision to race this year, so this is a great reward for all the hard work the team have put in over the last few weeks.”
The Rapid Solicitors Ducati 848 Challenge now moves on to Assen, where Round Two will be certain to be just as hard fought and action-packed.
1.Morris,2. Edwards, 3. Gilbertson, 4. Fry, 5. Poll, 6. R.Brown, 7. Skipper, 8. Ivanov, 9. Jordan, 10. Poole
1. Morris, 2. Edwards, 3. Fry, 4. Cheetham, 5. Poll, 6. Jordan, 7. Ivanov, 8. Poole, 9. R.Brown, 1. A.Brown