Ducati have a plan to return to World Superbike racing in 2013, racing what will most likely win every bike of the year accolade for 2012: the Ducati 1199 Panigale. The 1199R was homologated for Superstock racing shortly after its release and tomorrow will be the first European Superstock 1000 race of the year where the bike will get its first shake-down.
Eddi La Marra, rider with the established Barni Racing Ducati team, is the first rider to get a pole position on the Ducati Panigale, ahead of three BMWs. It looks like everything is going according to plan for Ducati.
Superpole was marred by two crashes, one comical and one serious. Davide Giugliano was pushing his Althea Ducati to keep up with Max Biaggi's Aprilia when he low-sided harmlessly, missing out on completing a single lap in Superpole 2. Jonathan Rea wasn't so lucky, highsiding out of turn 5 on a used race tyre. The result of his overcooking the corner was a nasty highside followed by a huge impact with the tarmac that blew the visor of his helmet on impact with the ground. Luckily, the Ten Kate Honda was the only major casualty and Rea was able to walk away from the crash without injury.
Spills aside, the spectacle was provided by Tom Sykes on the big green Kawasaki. In Superpole 3, he spent a qualifying tyre to get a pole position with a 1'46.748, the fastest time ever recorded on a bike at Imola. Even Carlos Checa's astounding 1'47.005 in Superpole 1 on his Althea Ducati was put in perspective by this flier of a lap. This is Sykes's second pole position out of two races this year, and if he can get his tyre wear issues sorted, he could be in line for a podium or two tomorrow.
Checa will have his work cut out for him if he is to get the results that are expected of him as reigning champion as he is flanked by Sylvain Guintoli (Effenbert Liberty Ducati) in 2nd and Leon Haslam (BMW) in 4th, two strong starters that won't make life easy for him.
The second row is headed by a subdued Biaggi while Marco Melandri on the BMW next to him was complaining of chatter for much of qualifying. In spite of his crash, Rea's time was still good enough for 7th on the grid ahead of Joan Lascorz, and he does well at this track, with only his aging Fireblade to hold him back.
The third row hosts Leonardo Zanetti, replacement for last year's rider Noriyuki Haga, on the Pata Ducati ahead of a man we are used to seeing in Superpole 3, Jakup Smrz. Eugene Laverty left it too late to mount a proper challenge, but was assured of 11th place after Davide Giugliano parked his Ducati on its side.
The men who were knocked out in Superpole 3 were Maxime Berger (Team Effenbert Liberty Racing), Niccolo Canepa (Red Devils Roma), Leon Camier (Crescent Fixi Suzuki) and Ayrton Badovini (BMW Motorrad Italia Goldbet) and further back than they should be are John Hopkins (Crescent Fixi Suzuki) and the disappointing Hiroshi Aoyama (Ten Kate Honda).
Sam Lowes (Bogdanka PTR Honda) and Sheridan Morais (Kawasaki Deltafin Lorenzini) have been the men at the top of the leaderboard throughout qualifying, so it's no surprise they share the front row ahead of former champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Deltafin Lorenzini), who was all but invisible on Friday, and Jules Cluzel (PTR Honda). Smart money would be on Lowes or Morais, but if Sofuoglu is near them towards the end of the race, he has form to make a late charge for the win.
Second row is usual suspects Broc Parkes (Ten Kate Honda) and Fabien Foret (Kawasaki Intermoto Step), who both have potential for a podium, ahead of Roberto Tamburini (Team Lorini) and Massimo Roccoli (Bike Service - WTR Ten 10).
Imola has given us some great racing in the past, and if the temperature does drop the five to ten degrees it has been tipped to, we should be granted some great flag-to-flag close racing in all the classes.