The last Superpole of 2012 held a few surprises with a small error of a tenth of a second or two having potential consequences for what remains of the season.
Championship leader Max Biaggi made a small mistake on his only remaining qualifying tyre in Superpole Two that meant he would not be able to improve on tenth place on the grid for Sunday's races. Even though he tried riding on the qualifier he'd used in the first session to get through to Superpole Three, there was only half a fast lap left in it, and a lap that started well enough for the front row tailed off drastically at the halfway mark. His teammate Eugene Laverty will start from third place on the grid and will most likely be expected to help Biaggi by pestering Tom Sykes in the most useful way possible; by winning.
Tom Sykes showed once again why he is a championship contender and regarded as the best qualifier in the paddock. In the last Superpole session, Carlos Checa set the benchmark and Sykes demolished it by half a second, recording the first sub-1'37 Superbike lap and Sykes's 9th pole position of the year. While Sykes is 30.5 points behind Biaggi and in with a mathematical chance at the title, Biaggi just needs to get 20 points, even if Sykes does the double. For Sykes to win, Biaggi needs a disastrous weekend, as he has scored fewer than 20 points in only two complete weekends this year and his average is almost 29 points a weekend. Tom Sykes's team mate Loris Baz is on the row behind Max Biaggi, and he will most likely have had a suggestion from his team to assist Sykes, although apart from trying extra special hard to beat Biaggi, there's little he can do. Unless it rains. And it may rain.
Marco Melandri is in fourth place on the grid and he will be hoping for a wet couple of races as he's riding with cracked ribs and Magny Cours is a physical track with lots of direction changes, a reason John Hopkins gave for giving up this weekend. If it doesn't rain, Melandri will have to pull something superhuman to scare the front two men.
Traditionally, Magny Cours is thought of as a Ducati track, but with the extra weight the 1098R is carrying, it's likely not going to be considered so this weekend. Carlos Checa qualified in second place, as good as anyone can hope for when Sykes is on form, but he will be hoping for rain to even up the odds. Sylvain Guintoli was fifth on the PATA Ducati in front of his home crowd, and is heavily rumoured to be signing with Suzuki for 2013. As another strong wet weather rider, Guintoli will also be throwing a few Euros in the kitty for a rain dancer.
With a new colour scheme and 2013 headlight stickers, Jonathan Rea placed a convincing sixth. His bike may be lacking in horsepower, something Honda and Cosworth are promising to fix for next year, but Rea can feel Eugene Laverty 14 points behind him in the title chase. Rea's team mate, Hiroshi Aoyama, missed Superpole once more and will be replaced next year in the Ten Kate team by the slightly wounded Leon Haslam who qualified ahead of Chaz Davies. Davies managed eighth today in spite of a nasty crash earlier that nearly destroyed his Aprilia.
World Supersport qualifying was the top five in a different order again, with Broc Parkes claiming pole position in his last weekend with the Ten Kate Honda. The French duo of Fabien Foret and Jules Cluzel take second and third ahead of Kenan Sofuoglu, while Sam Lowes uncharacteristically leads the second row. Lowes has four pole positions this year to Cluzel's five and Parkes's three.
With all the reports promising rain to some degree or other, the World Superbike title chase isn't over yet. It seems like everyone who gets close enough to grab the cup throws obstacles in their own way, as if fate is determined to keep us in suspense until the last race of the year. And that's tomorrow.