Miller Motorsports Park in the US took the role of high altitude track off South Africa's Kyalami, providing racing against a backdrop of spectacular mountains with the thinner air sapping power off the bikes like no other track on the calendar.
The race is held on Monday, instead of the usual Sunday, to give the US fans three days of Memorial Day holiday weekend packed with AMA Pro and World Superbike races. The World Supersport championship doesn't race this weekend.
For the last three years, whoever did the double at Miller won the title, and last year that was Carlos Checa who has been quick throughout qualifying. Max Biaggi and Tom Sykes, the men leading the championship, did not fare as well today, with Biaggi only managing four laps in the morning's waterlogged free practice session and Sykes crashing halfway through the windy qualifying session in the afternoon. Jakub Smrz was fastest when it was wet and fastest again when it was dry, showing us, as he does almost every weekend, that the man can qualify. Biaggi did make up for his poor morning session with a decent fourth place, ahead of the Ducatis of Davide Giugliano and Sylvain Guintoli, but behind Marco Melandri's BMW.
The rain in the morning was, by all accounts, terrible. Jonathan Rea didn't leave his garage until 15 minutes from the end and the view from his garage shows just how bad the rain was. The wind in the afternoon may have helped dry out the track, but it was stripping a good 10kmh off the top speeds down the main straight and blowing the Althea tent over in the process.
With John Hopkins and David Salom returning, the new riders to the series this weekend are Jake Holden, replacing Mark Aitchison who parted company with Grillini Progea BMW, and wildcard Shane Turpin on the Boulder Motor Sports Ducati. Loris Baz continues to cover for Joan Lascorz and Brett McCormick's bike is still not being raced. See the recent news on the two injured riders here.
With Carlos Checa in fourth place, trailing Max Biaggi by 23 points, this is a weekend where he has the most chance to wrestle solid points off Biaggi, Sykes and Rea above him. Expect him to try. On a track that appears to favour Ducatis, half of Superpole three tomorrow could be V-Twins again.