Ben Spies said that he that he had trouble getting focused enough to start "holding the thing wide open." That "thing" of course, is the trusty Yamaha YZF-R1 that carried him to his record-setting eleventh Superpole of the 2009 World Superbike season today at Portimao. Spies had been lagging about a half-second off the pace in practice and the first Superpole session and didn't find his groove until the second outing, where he topped the field, two-tenths of a second faster than Ten Kate Honda's Jonny Rea, who previously had been at the top of the time sheets all weekend. The Texas Terror went out in the third round with a used tire that didn't meet to his liking and subsequently returned to the pits without setting a lap time. Spies' Yamaha Italia crew then fitted a fresh qualifier on the back of the R1 and Spies ventured out with three minutes and change left in the session and merely set the fastest lap ever at the Portugese track, over a half-second faster than his nearest rival, Sterilgarda Ducati's Shane "Shakey" Byrne.
By then, third place man Michel Fabrizio had exhausted his supply of sticky rubber and could not retaliate. Jonny Rea was alternately balked by Fonsi Neito and had a scary moment of his own making on his last flying lap and had to settle for 4th, the last spot on the front row. Conspicuous in his absence in the third go-round was points leader Noriyuki Haga, who could only manage to set the tenth fastest time in the second session on his back-up Ducati 1098.
Going into tomorrow's final races, Ben Spies is where he said he needed to be, in the best possible position to get away quickly and avoid entanglements. It has to be bit worrisome to Spies, however, that he has two fast Ducatis parked off his right hand. Michel Fabrizio, who has at times this year had difficulty treading the fine line between stupid and clever, has vowed to do anything he can to help his teammate, hopefully short of taking Spies down like he did in Brno. Byrne, who is a bit disgruntled at Ducati for the lack of updates to his 1098 over the course of the season, presumably has no such loyalties but he's still unsigned for 2010 and needs to show the hands that hold the checkbooks that he can still do the business. Jonny Rea, as always, is a real threat, both for his take-no-prisoners style and his having been consistently at the front over the course of the weekend.
Noriyuki Haga, who blamed a difficulty getting his Xerox Ducati turned and a lack of rear grip for his poor showing, recognizes that he is at a disadvantage sitting on the third row, but the Rider Formerly Known as Nitro has been on his back foot before in this epic season and has come back to make a good showing. What everyone, fan and rider alike, would like to see tomorrow is a good clean fight between the two virtuosi that have come to the ultimate round neck-and-neck in the standings and that both will be able to crank it up one notch louder.