Silverstone, Great Britain
Pole position in World Supersport would have got you into the final Superpole session in World Superbike. Conditions were still wet and dangerous, but by no means as bad as they were in the larger class.
Superpole was, unsurprisingly, wet. Two twenty-minute sessions, with only eight riders able to qualify for the second round in with tricky conditions.
In the first full dry session of the weekend, with rain only making an ineffectual appearance 35 seconds from the flag, Leon Camier continued his good form with the session's fastest time, ahead of Jakub Smrz. Tom Sykes and Carlos Checa maintained their pace with third and fourth fastest times respectively, while rookie Loris Baz just pipped a confident-looking John Hopkins.
Max Biaggi had a crash which looked reminiscent of Randy Mamola's famous rodeo save, only without the save at the end, finishing his practice session and putting him behind his title rival Marco Melandri.
Jules Cluzel sat out most of the free practice session, opting only to go out in the last few minutes on slicks while everyone else was chasing settings on wet tyres.
With so few riders doing more than a handful of laps, it's difficult to judge anything from this session.
Another dry session cut short by rain, the big names that were worried about missing Superpole had to get fast laps in before the weather turned.
One of the paddock's worst-kept secrets was the cancellation of the Portimao round at the end of the 2012 World Superbike championship. Luckily for fans of the Portugese circuit, the track was confirmed as definitely being on the calendar, as the financial penalties for its not being held were greater than the costs. This, however, wasn't the biggest rumour to hit the paddock as, fresh on the heels of Ben Spies being almost certain to join the BWM Motorrad Italia team next year alongside Marco Melandri, we were treated with hints that Valentino Rossi would possibly be joining the Superbike paddock on a Yamaha in 2015.
The sun came out at Silverstone and started drying the track. As most riders rushed out to check the conditions, Tom Sykes held back a few minutes before taking to the track and taking control of the session. Carlos Checa set early fast times on his Althea Ducati, along with the Effenbert Liberty Ducatis of Jakub Smrz and Maxime Berger. PATA Ducati's fresh signing, Sylvain Guintoli, joined them at the top, showing that, unless you're Sykes, the Ducati is the bike to have in these conditions, at this track.
With tomorrow's weather forecast showing potentially worse weather than today, this qualifying session was more important than usual as provisional positions set here could count as final places for the race start. The weather was typical Silverstone; grey and damp, but lacking the punishing wind this track sometimes brings.
Jules Cluzel, in the dying minutes, put in a lap over a second faster than the rest of the field, assuring him of provisional pole ahead of Sam Lowes. Kenan Sofuoglu and Lowes were the only riders to get close to Cluzel's time with fourth placed Alex Baldolini over three seconds behind.
Carlos Checa, double-winner last year, led the session ahead of Tom Sykes until the rain sent everyone to the pits. While a few riders ventured out on wet tyres, that was effectively the end of the session. Two notable returnees to the paddock, Sylvain Guintoli and Brett McCormick, both got track time.
The morning free-practice was run in dry and cool conditions and was dominated by an upbeat Sam Lowes. In the first session, Lowes was just over a second slower than David Salom's 2011 lap record, and over half a second faster than Ronan Quarmby and Broc Parkes, also on Hondas. Sofuoglu in 6th was the fastest Kawasaki.
Press release previews from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams ahead of this weekend's race at Silverstone:
The tire problems experienced by Valentino Rossi and Ben Spies at Assen, where great chunks of rubber came off the right side of the rear of the tire, slowing Spies up severely and affecting Rossi so badly he was forced to pit for a new tire, have been the subject of much speculation and discussion since the event. Spies was particularly shaken after the race, the tire problems bringing back bad memories of the 300 km/h tire failure and monster crash he had at Daytona back in 2003, which he still has the scars to show from.
Nearly a week on, and after examination by Bridgestone technicians back at the factory in Japan, we can start to draw a few preliminary conclusions as to the cause of the problems. Bridgestone have issued a press release and briefed the press directly, and riders have weighed in with their thoughts and impressions of what happened. Before pointing fingers and apportioning blame, let us first walk through what we know of what actually happened.
Cal Crutchlow's offer of a factory ride at Ducati moved from conjecture to established fact at Assen, Crutchlow tacitly acknowledging that the factory which had offered him a contract was indeed Ducati. Though Crutchlow is waiting on an offer from the factory Yamaha team before giving Ducati an answer - Crutchlow is directly behind Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa in the Silly Season pecking order - he is believed to be very keen to take the ride, regarding a factory ride as the only chance he has of having a shot at being World Champion.
At Barcelona, when asked by MotoMatters.com whether the plight of the many top riders that have struggled on the Ducati worried him, Crutchlow told reporters it did not, saying that the similarities between his own riding style and Casey Stoner's made him optimistic he could learn to ride the GP13. "If I looked at my riding style and Casey's riding style, how we open the gas, how we brake, stuff like that, obviously he's a second a lap faster most of the time, but it's similar," Crutchlow said. "And as he's the only one who's been able to ride the Ducati, then I'm not scared to maybe take a chance and go there, no."
Pol Espargaró came back from darkness into the winner’s spotlight in a matter of days, thanks to his lonely and extraordinary Moto2 win at Silverstone. «Smart» Pol –do not confuse with Ducati rider Paul Smart- left Barcelona injured, with no points and witnessing how arch rival Marc Márquez was leaving with the same 16 points that Pol was fighting for when he crashed at Montmeló.
Espargaro may not be the most technical rider on the grid, neither does he speak the best English. However, you can be sure he has the strongest spirit among riders in the intermediate class. It would have been natural to be furious after being taken out by Marquez in Barcelona. But Espargaró was very well advised by HP Tuenti team Boss Sito Pons and chose the opposite and toughest way of overcoming his setback. Just dedicating a few nice words to his Catalunya Caixa rival and then focusing on proving at Silverstone he is as quick as the fastest rider on the track. Watching Espargaró in the last few seasons brings to my mind that old racing cliché: You can't teach a slow rider to produce a talent he does not have, but fortunately you can teach a skilled rider to be smarter or avoid mistakes. That’s what Espargaró and the HP Tuenti team have achieved this season.