Things haven't quite turned out as expected at Silverstone. Going into the weekend, everyone - fans, pundits and the Ducati teams themselves - were downplaying the chances of the Ducatis at Silverstone, with its fast layout and high-speed straights, and estimating how many points that championship leader might be forced to concede to the faster four cylinder bikes of Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri. But if anything, it has turned out to be the opposite, with Ducatis at or near the top in both the World Superbike and the Superstock 1000 classes. Indeed, so strong have the Ducatis been in Superstock that they sit in the front three places of the grid for tomorrow's race, Danilo Petrucci taking pole ahead of Davide Giugliano and Niccolo Canepa.
Pole was not on the cards in the World Superbike class for a Ducati rider - that honor falls to an outstanding John Hopkins, entered as a wildcard on board a Samsung Crescent Suzuki GSX-R 1000 - but with Checa on the end of the front row and Effenbert's Sylvain Guintoli at the head of the second row, they are well-placed to be competitive at Silverstone. Checa's race pace is punishing, especially when the track is a little cooler as it is expected to be on Sunday.
The weather might just end up playing a role tomorrow. Conditions are expected to be fine, with light cloud and occasional sun, but temperatures dropping compared with Saturday, ideal for watching bike racing and ideal for the Althea Ducati. Cooler temperatures will be disappointing for Marco Melandri, as both Yamahas have made big steps forward after a relatively disastrous first day of practice on Friday, and Melandri and Eugene Laverty have improved nearly every session. Melandri told GPOne.com that he was hoping for a hot track tomorrow, as they hotter it is, the more competitive he feels he can be. The Italian starts from 6th on Sunday, so is at least in with a chance of sticking with Checa for the race.
Max Biaggi had no such luck, in fact nearly all of his luck at Silverstone has been bad. A mystery crash in the first minutes of Superpole 1 nearly saw him go out after the first session, but a fast lap on his spare bike at the end of SP1 got him through to the next session. There his challenge stranded, however, his second bike not feeling the same as the bike that he had crashed, and forced to start Sunday's race from the third row of the grid. Biaggi has been off the pace throughout the weekend, with little perspective for improvement ahead of the race.
It isn't the Aprilia that is the problem, though. Biaggi's teammate Leon Camier qualified 3rd, and both he and Nori Haga on the privateer Pata bike have been quick all weekend. If Camier can last the distance - the glandular fever he came down with at the start of the year has been playing up over the weekend - he might throw up a surprise at Silverstone.
But so far, the standout performance has come from John Hopkins. Since cleaning up his act and staying off the drink over a year ago, Hopper has transformed both his personal life and his career. Now fit, focused, and several kilos lighter than when he raced in MotoGP, Hopkins has been impressive all year. Riding a Suzuki in the British BSB championship, Hopper has turned up at tracks he has never seen before and run at the front from the very start. He is currently in 2nd place in the championship - though the championship is settled in a mathematically convoluted and frankly bizarre two-part competition - and has a couple of wins to his name. He is staking his claim to be racing at the World Championship level with every appearance, and claiming Superpole at Silverstone certainly hasn't hurt his chances. Whether he has the pace to match the WSBK regulars over race distance remains to be seen, but it would be foolish to bet against at least one podium for the American.
In the World Supersport class, Silverstone is clearly kindest to the Hondas, a flock of them crowding the front two rows of the grid. Pole went to David Salom on the Motocard.com Kawasaki - his second of the season - but he has local boys Sam Lowes and Gino Rea together with French youngster Florian Marino beside him on the front row, the British boys especially keen to make an impression in front of their home crowd.
It has not been such a great weekend for championship leader Chaz Davies, the Yamahas struggling so far throughout practice. An overnight improvement saw Davies qualify in 8th, the last spot on the 2nd row, but the fact that he has his two main title rivals Fabien Foret and Broc Parkes beside him in 6th and 7th is some consolation. A win for Davies seems highly unlikely, the Welshman's best strategy to go for damage limitation. Sitting on a 36 point lead over Foret and Parkes means he just has to keep them within sight. Salom has become the danger man, the Spaniard just a single point behind Parkes, and trailing 37 behind Davies. But with Lowes and Rea having shone all weekend, victory looks likely to go to a British rider, no doubt much to the joy of the home crowd.
One of the more controversial topics of debate raised at Silverstone has been the times set by Carlos Checa. The Althea Ducati rider has been faster than Valentino Rossi aboard the Ducati Desmosedici GP11 MotoGP bike in every session, even besting Rossi's qualifying time (2'05.781) in every session except for FP1. This despite a 40+ hp deficit to the GP11, and obviously at a track that the seven-time MotoGP champion had never raced at before. Silverstone marked the point at which Rossi and his crew gave up on the GP11 - the old bike that he started the season with - deciding to switch to the GP11.1 at Assen, the very next round. Carlos Checa demonstrates there is very little wrong with Ducati's ability to build competitive racing motorcycles. They just need to be 1200cc, V-twins and shod with Pirelli tires.