It's Saturday afternoon, and the sun is starting to make way for clouds. For the moment, it's still bright, but there's no guarantee of that lasting. The second session of Supersport practice was run in pleasant, if not exactly warm conditions, and times continued to drop as ever more rubber was laid on the track.
Once again it was Kenan Sofuoglu who dominated the session, quickly dropping into the 1'45s, and setting the mark for pole at 1'45.156 before the session was even halfway done. Many would try, but the closest anyone would get would be Broc Parkes in the dying seconds of the session, getting to within 7/100ths on the Yamaha.
Holland's Barry Veneman will start from 3rd on the grid, the Hoegee Suzuki team having picked up the final couple of tenths they've been missing over the last few rounds. Veneman has Andrew Pitt on the other Ten Kate Honda beside him on the grid, the 2008 World Champion finishing out the front row.
Gianluca Nannelli heads up the second row of the grid on the Althea Honda, with Spanish rider Joan Lascorz dropping to 6th, from 3rd this morning. Josh Brookes will start from 7th, while American Josh Hayes was pushed down to 8th, and the end of the 2nd row. Hayes had started well, but dropped gradually down the order, as the other riders made good their knowledge deficit of the track.
In the afternoon's World Superbike free practice session, Troy Bayliss was out to avenge his indifferent time of this morning, and quickly topped the timesheets, setting his fastest time on his 2nd full lap out of the pits. This time, Bayliss' time was good enough to beat his team mate, Michel Fabrizio setting the 2nd fastest time, making it a Xerox Ducati 1-2. Cal Crutchlow continued his run of strong times, setting the 3rd fastest time, ahead of Noriyuki Haga and Carlos Checa.
We woke up this morning to a surprise: skies were blue, more or less, the sun was out, and the world looked a much more attractive place than it has for the past two days. It's still cold here, but conditions have improved vastly overnight.
Traffic on the way into the circuit was busier than yesterday, unsurprisingly, but they still haven't finished the freeway exit which is supposed to take fans straight from the A22 freeway to the circuit. With today, November 1st, being a national holiday, the chances of it being completed and opened are minimal. If you want to get here on Sunday, leave early.
With the weather now cooperating, the World Supersport session started on time, and Parkalgar Honda's Josh Hayes was quickest for the first half of practice, before Joan Lascorz, Broc Parkes and Kenan Sofuoglu got up to speed.
Once up to speed, Sofuoglu was flying. The young Turkish rider is clearly much more at home back on his Ten Kate Honda, and finished the session on top of the timesheets. Yamaha's Broc Parkes got close, but not close enough, finishing 2nd, ahead of Joan Lascorz and Andrew Pitt. Hayes eventually finished down in 5th.
The second Superbike qualifying session saw the field shook up the same way as Supersport. Where yesterday, Britannia ruled, this morning, they merely made their presence felt, with Cal Crutchlow, Leon Haslam and Johnny Rea all hitting the top 10, rather than the top 5. No surprise to see Troy Corser near the top of the timesheets, as the Australian wants to get a win on a Yamaha before he leaves the team. All the more surprise to see Ducati's Michel Fabrizio ahead of Corser, taking top spot.
And another surprise behind Corser. Fonsi Nieto is still uncertain of his ride for next year, and grabbed some attention with the 3rd fastest time, ahead of Alstare Suzuki team mate Max Neukirchner. Crutchlow, Haslam and Rea were joined on the second row by Kawasaki's Regis Laconi, while the privateer Ducati of Jakub Smrz took 9th ahead of Ruben Xaus' semi-factory Sterilgarda bike. Troy Bayliss, running a special #21 livery on the bike for his final race weekend, could manage only 13th, but looked fast all the way round the track.
The grids for both classes will be settled this afternoon.
The weather continues to confuse and confound expectations here in Portugal, with rain and sunshine alternating almost minute by minute. The track, despite the sunshine, has barely been dry, however. As a consequence, times have been difficult to judge.
The World Supersport qualifying session was a case in point. The American Josh Hayes led for much of the session, having gone out on wet tires, and as a dry line was starting to appear, he pulled in for some intermediates. As he headed out of pit lane to start his next lap, it started to rain, and by the time he was halfway round the track, the dry line was completely gone, and his chance of provisional pole along with it.
In the end, it was the Frenchman Mathieu Lagrive who got it most right, topping the timesheets ahead of Hayes on the Parkalgar Honda, with Joan Lascorz and Gianluca Vizziello rounding out the front row. Kenan Sofuoglu continued to show just how much better he is on a Supersport bike than on a Superbike by setting the 5th fastest time, ahead of Gianluca Nanelli, with the Hoegee Suzukis of Barry Veneman and Didier van Keymeulen rounding out the second row. Jesco Gunther took 9th, while the 2008 World Supersport champion Andrew Pitt was down in 10th.
The disparity in times showed just how difficult the conditions were. Lagrive was 1.4 seconds faster than Hayes, while Hayes was 1.5 ahead of Lascorz. The top 10 are separated by 6.3 seconds.
The weather was slightly better for the World Superbike session, and for a while, it looked like being an all-British front row, with Ten Kate Honda's Johnny Rea, the HM Plant Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Leon Haslam, and Ventaxia Honda's Chris Walker heading the timesheets. But by the end of the session, it was Troy Corser who took provisional pole, forcing Haslam down into 2nd, with the Ducatis of Michel Fabrizio and Ruben Xaus filling out the front row.
Heavy rain overnight on Thursday meant the inaugural day of practice got off to a late start here in Portugal. There are still problems with drainage, and parts of the track were flooded. What was worse was mud on the track, which had to be cleaned off before proceedings could start.
While the track was fixed quickly, facilities around the circuit are a little more problematic, with power being alternated between the pit garages and the hospitality area, the electricity supply blowing fuses with alarming regularity. And because the outside of the track is still basically a construction site, vast quantities of rich brown mud is being tramped everywhere. At least there is an army of cleaners keeping the buildings almost spotless, but they are having to work for their money.
When practice commenced, times dropped rapidly as rubber started to be laid on the brand new surface. During the first free practice session of World Supersport, Joan Lascorz started quickly, before Parkalgar Honda's Josh Hayes took over the top spot. The Mississippian was making good use of the track knowledge acquired here during testing last week, and was getting quicker when he crashed going into turn 1. He ended the session in 5th place. Joan Lascorz took back the top spot while Hayes limped back to the pits with a damaged bike.
Lascorz finished the session on top, ahead of Matthieu Lagrive, Kenan Sofuoglu, clearly much happier on a Supersport bike than he was on a Superbike, and the Dutch Hoegee Suzuki rider Barry Veneman.