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It seems that what you need to do to fill a stadium is to have a local hero that is universally loved by his compatriots. Istanbul Park had an attendance of 51,651 and it seemed they were all there for Kenan Sofuoglu. The event was the Turkish equivalent of Carl Fogarty at Brands Hatch in the 1990s, with the fans assured that their rider would be on the podium at the very least.
The last race of the World Superbike weekend was held over 18 laps at 25C in front of an emptying grandstand, the fans having come for the Supersport race.
World Supersport was a sixteen lap race with thirty four starters, but the world was only looking at two of them: A championship was very much on the line.
Sixteen riders started the eighteen lap race in 23 degree sunshine.
Carlos Checa, Leon Camier, Max Neukirchner, Loris Baz and Jonathan Rea will not be racing tomorrow. Istanbul Park and Nurburgring have sidelined five riders, leaving the grid diminished. Those who are racing, all but one of whom took part in Superpole, have missed out on track time due to poor track conditions or bad weather. And yet, the track is such a good track, and the qualifying so tight, that there is still a chance of a decent close race tomorrow, and the track looks to have been cleaned up by a combination of rain, oil, marshals, cat litter and race rubber.
World Supersport qualifying was split into two sessions, with the last part being a three minute sprint, an incident with Fabien Foret and Fabio Menghi causing the red flag to once again be unfurled.
All fifteen riders who registered a qualifying lap were automatically eligible for Superpole.
World Supersport’s second free practice session started on time, on a damp track. With just under twenty minutes to go, oil was trailed across the whole track and was, in some places, sitting on top of water, bringing out the red flags. As the cleanup operation was underway, it became clear that there would not be enough time after the track was safe to run the remaining nineteen minutes. Rather than throw the Superbike schedule off, it was decided to run the remainder of the session after the big bikes had been out. In the restarted session, Kenan Sofuoglu held the top spot until the last few minutes, when Sam Lowes came out and deposed him. Lowes was unable to beat his qualifying time, but Sofuoglu managed to slice four tenths off his lap time, getting very close to Lowes, offering hope of a home victory to him and his fans.
Christian Iddon and Kev Coghlan posted respectable times, approaching Sofuoglu’s qualifying times from yesterday, and adding themselves to the list of potential front-row starters.
Rain this morning coupled with a World Supersport bike trailing oil all around the damp track in a red-flagged session gave us a free practice session with only twelve of the sixteen available riders recording laps. Sylvain Guintoli was fastest ahead of Jules Cluzel, neither of whom could break the 2'06 barrier in the poor conditions. World Supersport free practice will resume now this session is finished.
With overnight rain and a damp track, Ayrton Badovini had to wait until the track dried enough to record a qualifying time. Instead, before it was dry, the rains returned. Three riders ventured out and not one of them was able to approach their times from yesterday. Times from yesterday determine who goes into Superpole, with Badovini missing out and starting from last place on the grid; quite a change from last meeting's pole position.
Merely fifteen riders have recorded qualifying times for the very first Istanbul round of World Superbike, three of them for the first time in their career. Three riders couldn’t race this weekend, due to injuries sustained at the Nurburgring and a green track this morning sidelined a further three, with only one likely to return tomorrow.
The first timed qualifying session was missing Carlos Checa, Ayrton Badovini and Leon Camier, all victims of crashes this morning, leading to only fifteen riders recording times. Sylvain Guintoli was once again fastest, with a 1’56.190, ahead of Marco Melandri, with Eugene Laverty being the only other rider to record a sub-1’57 lap.
Local rider Kenan Sofuoglu put in a valiant attept to grab provisional pole in front of his fans, but he just couldn't match rival Sam Lowes's 2'00.000 lap. Florian Marino and Roberto Tamburini continue their form from the earlier session, taking third and fourth fastest times respectively.
Sylvain Guintoli, recording a 1'56.851 after ninety minutes of extended practice, was two-thirds of a second clear of Marco Melandri and Tom Sykes. Sykes, was for a long time, the only man in the top eight with no prior experience of the track, while Toli Elias, on his first ever run on a Superbike, held the top position for a respectable time.
Leon Camier and Carlos Checa were both sent to the medical centre after crashing, in separate incidents, with Camier ok, but needing further examinations on his foot, and Checa needing his hand and foot looked at.
Less than 30 minutes into the extended 90-minute free practice, Kenan Sofuoglu set a time of 2’01.743 before everyone else had even passed the 2’03 mark. Just after halfway through, Sam Lowes took the top spot of the local man, but not for long. The two looked to have nobody else for company until, with less than fifteen minutes left in the session, Florian Marino, Lorenzo Zanetti and David Salom all joined them, with others following suit as the session wrapped up. However, as the flag came out, Lowes was the only rider to have dipped under 2’01, setting the fastest lap in four out of his five last laps. Sofuoglu languished in sixth place.