Stobart Motorsport rider Michael Rutter got the 2006 Bennetts British Superbike Championship off to a great start by recording a third place finish in today's opening round of the series with a gritty performance in difficult conditions at Brands Hatch in Kent.

Riding the VK Vodka Kick and Vent Axia backed Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, Rutter get a blinding start to run with the leaders in the opening laps before falling back into the clutches of the pursuing pack.

However, the 31 year old from Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire dug in and fought off the close attentions of former works Honda team mate Ryuichi Kiyonari to hold onto the final rostrum placing as out came the red flags following an accident involving Leon Haslam.

As a result, Rutter claimed his first podium for both the Paul Bird Motorsport team and himself since Snetterton last July, but was unable to repeat his heroics in race two when a technical problem forced him out in the early stages.

"I was well happy with race one" said a delighted Rutter. "Third place on my first run out was great, everything went well so hopefully we can try and repeat it at Donington. In race two I just couldn't get the power down safely so I thought the most sensible option was to pull in so I could stay in one piece for Donington."

Team mate Michael Laverty also endured mixed fortunes in the corresponding races and following a battling seventh place finish in race one, ended up sliding off in the wet conditions late on in race two.

"The first race wasn't so bad, I thought Shakey Byrne was holding me up a bit and if I could have got past him I could have run with Jonathan Rea. The second race I just plugged away. I was going to go for a wet rear but I didn't. I managed to get up to eleventh and I made a mistake and ended up crashing, although it was just a small crash, I ended up losing some points" said the 24 year old Ulsterman from Toomebridge.

Team owner Paul Bird had mixed feelings following the season opener:

"A great result in race one and instantly forgettable race two just about sums up the afternoon" said the Penrith businessman. "Michael (Rutter) did us proud and battled away in race one and then he had a problem in race two which if it happened today would have happened next time out. I was pleased for Michael (Laverty) in race one but like him, I was a little disappointed he crashed when another points scoring finish was on the cards. But we're better placed to challenge next time out and I'm glad to get this round out of the way."

Superbike Race One Result
1, Gregorio Lavilla (Ducati) 15m28.510s, 2, Karl Harris (Honda) +4.222s, 3, Michael Rutter (Stobart Honda) +8.758s, 4, Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda) +8.891s, 5, Jonathan Rea (Red Bull Honda) +12.363s, 6, Shane Byrne (Suzuki) +18.556s, 7, Michael Laverty (Stobart Honda) +18.793s, 8, Dean Thomas (Kawasaki) +19.171s, 9, Glen Richards (Honda) +19.285s, 10, James Haydon (Suzuki) +20.402s.

Superbike Race Two Result
1, Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda) 25m39.805s, 2, Leon Haslam (Ducati) +19.069s, 3, Gregorio Lavilla (Ducati) +19.240s, 4, Craig Coxhell (Kawasaki) +21.922s, 5, Karl Harris (Honda) +23.918s, 6, Tommy Hill (Yamaha) +25.842s, 7, James Haydon (Suzuki) +48.840s, 8, Dean Thomas (Kawasaki) +53.371s, 9, Glen Richards (Honda) +1lap, 10, Ollie Bridewell (Suzuki) +1lap.