The second ever running of the new knockout Superpole in World Superbikes saw evidence that the teams had learned the importance that tactics would play in this new format. But it also showed that it was still possible to get it horribly wrong.
For the cutoff at the end of the first session saw some surprising names not make the cut, the biggest of which was Johnny Rea. The Ten Kate Honda man had been right on the pace all weekend, but misjudged what it would take to get through to the second session, and found himself just edged out by Troy Corser on the BMW S1000RR. Corser had had exactly the same thing happen to him at Phillip Island, and wasn't about to make the same mistake twice.
Rea was joined on the sidelines by two more big names: Both Leon Haslam and Max Neukirchner had been on the podium at Phillip Island, yet both the Briton and the German were unable to progress to the next session. Neukirchner has been complaining of a lack of rear grip here in Qatar, and clearly hadn't found a solution for Superpole. Tommy Hill was the last man to fail to make the cut, but as the Althea Honda man had had a big crash in the final free practice session.
Troy Corser may have made it through the first session, the Australian was not so lucky during the second session. He was eliminated along with BMW team mate Ruben Xaus, while the fortunes of the other new manufacturer on the grid were quite different. Max Biaggi led Superpole 2, getting well into the 1'57s to claim an - otherwise meaningless - fastest time of the session.
Ben Spies had clearly chosen to "sit out" the second session, doing just enough to ensure he would progress to the final showdown, after having been quickest in the first session. And Shane Byrne left it until very late in the second session to ensure his progression, using his last lap to secure a spot in the top 8, and a chance to battle for pole. At the fall of the flag, Roberto Rolfo, Michel Fabrizio, Regis Laconi, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Broc Parkes and Yukio Kagayama joined the BMWs of Xaus and Corser in failing to make the cut.
The final session was, as always, a great deal more straightforward. Gone were the tactics, the only thing that mattered was who had a qualifier left and who knew how to use it. At the end of the session, it was the increasingly impressive Ben Spies who took his second pole in a row with a lap of 1'57.280 - a time that would have put him ahead of 10 MotoGP riders at the tests run here under the floodlights last week. Spies just edged out the equally impressive Jakub Smrz on the Guandalini Ducati, who finshed 3/10ths ahead of Max Biaggi, the Aprilia continuing to impress, while Noriyuki Haga overcame the problems that have plagued him all week to grab the final spot on the front row.
Spies' team mate Tom Sykes finished an equally impressive 5th, proving that the brand new Yamaha YZF-R1 has plenty of potential. And Shinya Nakano's 6th spot on the grid reinforces the same for the Aprilia. Carlos Checa was the only Honda to have made it through to the final qualifying session, and will start from 7th, ahead of Shane Byrne on the Sterilgarda Ducati. But Byrne's mind will mainly be concentrated on finishing, and getting some points on the board, after crashing out of the two races in Australia.
Once racing starts tomorrow, Spies is definitely looking like the man to beat, while Johnny Rea, who could have pushed Spies had he not been knocked out of Superpole early, will have to fight his way through the field to contend for a maiden win. Nori Haga, however, is likely to be travelling in the opposite direction. It is conceivable he managed to disguise a lack of grip with a sticky qualifying tire, which he certainly used to devastating effect. But he will need more than that on race day if he wants to retain his comfortable lead in the championship. At least his current rival for the lead, Max Neukirchner on the Alstare Suzuki, is unlikely to cause Haga much trouble, starting from the 5th row.
We find out for sure on Saturday, when the flag drops, and racing starts for real.
Grid after Superpole
|1||19||B. Spies||USA||Yamaha YZF R1||1'57.280|
|2||96||J. Smrz||CZE||Ducati 1098R||1'57.384|
|3||3||M. Biaggi||ITA||Aprilia RSV4||1'57.694|
|4||41||N. Haga||JPN||Ducati 1098R||1'57.850|
|5||66||T. Sykes||GBR||Yamaha YZF R1||1'57.878|
|6||56||S. Nakano||JPN||Aprilia RSV4||1'58.755|
|7||7||C. Checa||ESP||Honda CBR1000RR||1'59.090|
|8||67||S. Byrne||GBR||Ducati 1098R||2'00.021|
|9||44||R. Rolfo||ITA||Honda CBR1000RR||1'58.734|
|10||84||M. Fabrizio||ITA||Ducati 1098R||1'58.919|
|11||55||R. Laconi||FRA||Ducati 1098R||1'59.044|
|12||9||R. Kiyonari||JPN||Honda CBR1000RR||1'59.055|
|13||23||B. Parkes||AUS||Kawasaki ZX 10R||1'59.074|
|14||71||Y. Kagayama||JPN||Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K9||1'59.134|
|15||111||R. Xaus||ESP||BMW S1000 RR||1'59.435|
|16||11||T. Corser||AUS||BMW S1000 RR||1'59.454|
|17||65||J. Rea||GBR||Honda CBR1000RR||1'59.713|
|18||91||L. Haslam||GBR||Honda CBR1000RR||1'59.882|
|19||76||M. Neukirchner||GER||Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K9||1'59.926|
|20||33||T. Hill||GBR||Honda CBR1000RR||2'00.108|
|21||31||K. Muggeridge||AUS||Suzuki GSX-R 1000 K9||2'00.738|
|22||100||M. Tamada||JPN||Kawasaki ZX 10R||2'00.839|
|23||25||D. Salom||ESP||Kawasaki ZX 10R||2'01.047|
|24||24||B. Roberts||AUS||Ducati 1098R||2'01.165|
|25||77||V. Iannuzzo||ITA||Honda CBR1000RR||2'01.560|
|26||86||A. Badovini||ITA||Kawasaki ZX 10R||2'01.561|
|27||99||L. Scassa||ITA||Kawasaki ZX 10R||2'01.607|
|28||15||M. Baiocco||ITA||Kawasaki ZX 10R||2'02.663|