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.