After a long, five-week break since the first round of the season at Philip Island, World Superbikes is back in Europe. Imola was previously kept until the end of the season, but in 2012, it's been moved forward to the the second round, making it hard to compare the results with previous years, although the unusual warm weather would have thrown the usual estimates into the fiction category anyway. Perennial qualifier Jakub Smrz may well be the top qualifier of the day, but that was a last-gasp dash on the Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati for the flag that put him at the top of the leader board that was dominated throughout the qualifying session by the big green Kawasakis of Tom Sykes and Joan Lascorz.
Sykes is another man with great saturdays in his history and Imola is a track he featured high up throughout qualifying and even finished fourth at last year, so his results are to be expected, but Lascorz started 18th on the grid last year after failing to qualify for Superpole. If the Kawasakis can manage their tyres well, something they are not renowned for, Sykes could be on for a good showing on Sunday as he should qualify well tomorrow.
As for Max Biaggi (4th) and Carlos Checa (7th), these are the two men between whom the championship will likely be fought in 2012. Biaggi's qualifying his Aprilia ahead of Checa's Althea Ducati will mean little for these men on Sunday and they should both be expected to be fighting for wins, regardless of how well they did on Friday, although Checa's doubles are usually taken after weekends of dominance, which we haven't seen as yet. Jonathan Rea spent the early part of both sessions at the sharp end, putting in early fliers on his Ten Kate Honda that stood for a while until he eventually had to settle for 5th and the doggish Leon Haslam was first out of the block on his BMW and had to end the day with beating his team-mate Marco Melandri, who struggled with his bike. Sylvain Guintoli, on the second Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati filled the last place on the provisional second row, putting in a solid performance that should translate into good qualifying on Saturday. What was unfortunate was the returning John Hopkins on his Crescent Suzuki only being able to manage a provisional 18th place which, if he can't improve on tomorrow, will mean he misses out on Superpole.
One remarkable statistic of the day's trials was that the top fifteen are all within one second of each other and, apart from maybe the Suzukis, no manufacturer is over-represented at the front. This promises more of the proper close racing with which the World Superbike championship has become synonymous.
In World Supersport, Sam Lowes and Sheridan Morais traded top spots throughout free practice and qualifying, with Russian hotshot Vladimir Leonov snapping at their heels in the morning and Broc Parkes, Fabien Foret and Roberto Tamburini also joining them under 1'53, this doesn't look like it'll be as close.