Qualifying was done in ideal weather, with only one bike catching on fire under the Spanish sun. If it feels like it was seven weeks since the last race, that's because it was seven weeks since the last race. The season is said to truly start here, but looking at the championship standings reminds us that we are in an already-running series. Two Aprilia teammates come into this weekend in joint first place, on a track that suits bikes with a lot of engine, like the Aprilias and BMWs.
While Tom Sykes pulled yet another pole position out of his hat, Eugene Laverty in the second free practice session was peeling off 1'57s while Sykes was managing 1'58s. Chaz Davies, along with teammate Marco Melandri, was also managing 1'58s, but only one of the BMW men is on the front row. Sylvain Guintoli and Loris Baz were both managing 1'59s while the third Frenchman on their row was mostly managing 2'00 laps. While all of these were not race-simulations, and are therefore more important to the guys in the garages than they are to us, they at least give an indication of how the riders do on their own. Of course, Superbike riders don't race on their own unless they are exceedingly lucky or exceedingly unlucky, so while these figures tend to suggest an inevitable Laverty victory, fans of racing know that it will be a race, regardless of what Saturday's telemetry says.
Seeing Tom Sykes on pole position isn't going to shock anyone, especially when he declared himself fit at the beginning of the weekend, and it's likely he will be on the podium, packing his title challenge full of points. What remains to be seen is if he can make a break at the beginning as the Aprilias rule the second half of the track. if Eugene Laverty leads before the last sector, it will be very difficult for Sykes to regain the lead by the finish line. With Sykes's old teammate Joan Lascorz commentating for Spanish TV, Sykes will be trying to give his friend a result worth talking about.
Chaz Davies has been quick and consistent all weekend on a bike that suits both him and the track. Getting his first front row prompted Eugene Laverty to say he should be worried about Davies as he usually comes on strong towards the end of a race and doesn't usually get to start from a good position. A win for Davies is a very real possibility, while the only man on the grid to ever have won here, Marco Melandri, on the same bike, will be starting on the third row due to not being able to dial in a decent setting in time. Melandri isn't intimidated by riders in front of him. Expect a few hard passes in early laps.
The all-French second row is headed by Sylvain Guintoli who has been struggling to find confidence on his Aprilia. It is almost a certainty that he will not leave Aragon at the head of the championship. Jules Cluzel, Suzuki's only hope with Leon Camier in a leg brace with an open knee wound, is very much an unknown quantity. He has been creeping up the ranks all weekend and could easily finish at or above his qualifying position, even with fast men starting behind him. Loris Baz, on the other hand, may well lose a place or two as the race goes on and the likes of Jonathan Rea and Carlos Checa get into their strides.
Jonathan Rea was very unlucky, a habit he needs to somehow get out of, with his Honda finally seeming to make use of the upgrades but a rear wheel sensor caused him issues in the last Superpole, relegating him to a ninth place he didn't deserve, while his teammate Leon Haslam was further back for similar reasons, including a crash that cost him the morning's session. Davide Giugliano in seventh place looks like a man who doesn't understand how he got where he is but is happy to be there. Having realised he has a fast bike, he now has to make use of it.
Carlos Checa didn't look happy, though. Missing out on the last Superpole session by 0.037 of a second, he looked visibly annoyed by the proceedings. This isn't a weekend where nice things will be written about Ducatis.
In World Supersport, the battle between Sam Lowes and reigning champion Kenan Sofuoglu continued with Sofuoglu coming out on top. The situation with Aprilia and BMW being faster in World Superbikes is reflected here by the Kawasakis being the fastest down the straights. Sam Lowes told Motomatters that he was losing 0.2sec down the straight to the Kawasakis, and that he will be aiming for points over heroics, especially as he's riding with a wrist injury.
Fabien Foret's return to the sharp end after a weekend further back could prove interesting, but Michael Van Der Mark and Sheridan Morais have been putting in times that should not rule them out either. Kev Coglan's fifth place qualifying may put him in a good position, but he hasn't shown race-winning pace earlier in the weekend.
With Foret and Sofuoglu riding for the same team, we are guaranteed not to have a replay of their coming together last year, which was entertaining, but dangerous, but we should be in for anything but a runaway processional race.
The bike that caught fire? Alexander Lundh's Kawasaki in the first Superpole session.