A frenetic Dickies British Supersport race went down to the wire as reigning champion Tarran Mackenzie narrowly held off Alastair Seeley for a hard-fought win at Donington Park.
Less than three seconds covered the first six riders after an enthralling battle at the Leicestershire circuit, where Seeley was making his debut on the Spirit Motorcycles Moto2 machine.
The two-time British champion held off fellow Carrick man Andrew Irwin to take the runner-up spot, with Irwin celebrating his first ever Supersport rostrum on the Gearlink Kawasaki in third.
The Supersport Sprint race and BSB qualifying was cancelled on Saturday following the tragic death of Ducati TriOptions Cup rider Mick Whalley – from Kent – who was killed following a seven-rider incident. Another rider, Mike Honey, sustained multiple leg injuries.
Seeley, who is ineligible for championship points on the Spirit machine, qualified on pole in the wet on Saturday but showed he also had the pace to challenge at the front in the dry.
The 37-year-old had vowed to ‘put the cat amongst the pigeons’ after securing a late deal to remain in the British championship this year and he did exactly that.
“I think the next time I go out I’ll have to wear a gum shield because the bike was chattering its brains out,” Seeley said.
“We had to deal with a hiccup ever since we tested the bike because there’s a delay getting on the throttle and it misses a beat and splutters before it goes.
“For the Spirit Quattro team, to be arriving here for the first round and getting amongst the boys and leading a race, it’s a testament to where they are already, so a big shout out to the team for putting me here. I’ve a smile back on my face so I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Irwin was delighted with his maiden British Supersport podium, which has made him even hungrier to challenge for his first win this season.
“It was a really good race and with two laps to go I should have let Alastair get ahead and followed him, but I wanted to win the race outright to be honest,” he said.
“It’s my first British Supersport podium and this one’s for the Ducati rider who passed away yesterday [Mick Whalley]. Thank you to the whole Gearlink Kawasaki team and all my sponsors.
“I can’t wait to win a race, hopefully some time soon.”
Seeley appeared to have made a decisive break in the race only to be reeled back in by the Kawasaki machine of Irwin, but it was Mackenzie who finally found race-winning pace in the closing stages, working his way through to the front before producing a blistering last lap to take the flag by almost one second from Seeley.
Irwin flashed over the line in third, only 0.3 seconds behind Seeley, with Benjamin Currie on the second Gearlink Kawasaki machine a close fourth.
Eglinton’s David Allingham made up rapid ground to scythe through the field, finishing in fifth place ahead of Dublin’s Jack Kennedy (MV Agusta), while Clogher man Keith Farmer was seventh on the Team Appleyard Macadam Yamaha.
Farmer is due to contest the first three rounds for the team as a replacement for the injury-hit Luke Jones.
Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston, lapping up some track miles ahead of the North West 200, was 20th on the Jackson Honda.
Meanwhile, Carl Phillips finished ninth and 12th in Saturday’s Superstock 1000 races on the MD Racing Suzuki.
Ian Hutchinson made it onto the rostrum in race three on Sunday, which was won by Richard Cooper from Danny Buchan. Robert English finished 18th, 25th and 26th in the three races on the IFS Yamaha.
In the Superstock 600 race, Robert Kennedy finished a fine fourth on the Sandown Kawasaki.
Eugene McManus Jr was third in the first British Motostar race on Saturday on his KTM. McManus finished fourth in race two, with Richard Kerr taking the runner-up spot.
Scott Swann finished 23rd and 19th in the two races.