If you've ever walked around Donington, it's hard to consider it as a small track as it was described today by Sylvain Guintoli, and yet it takes around a minute and a half to get around on a Superbike as speeds over 60kmh slower than tracks like Aragon or Monza. It's a proper old track, resplendent with sweeps, undulations and a, as the French say, “So British” feel to it.
And yet, Le Plus Anglais Des Français, the Leicestershire resident Sylvain Guintoli, has mixed emotions when it comes to Donington. It's the track closest to where he lives and it was the track that came closest to ending his career when an errant Australian in a British Superbike race hit him on a sighting lap at racing speed at the Melbourne Loop hairpin, breaking his right tibia and fibia and putting him out of racing for six meetings and ending his run on the British title. Sylvain Guintoli, leading the championship, was able to put all that behind him and qualify in second place, grabbing the middle seat on the front bench of the grid. He made a few errors on his fast lap that cost him a few tenths of a second, he said, but even if he'd been perfect, he said he couldn't have beaten "Sykes the specialist". With his team mate, second placed in the championship Eugene Laverty, in third place on the grid, Aprilia are happy to know their bike is as good on the scrappy circuits as it is on the fast ones.
Tom Sykes, however, was on the top of the pile. His fourth pole position of the year came with, as usual, a couple of broken lap records on the way. And yet, in spite of being a third of a second faster than the Aprilias, Sykes was disappointed with his first lap with the qualifying tyres in Superpole 3, stating that he should have been faster still than the fastest ever lap, the lap that followed it, as he made a few tiny mistakes. His love of hot-lapping showing in his frustration at beating the lap record by a smaller factor than he believed he could do. His fifteenth career pole position and fastest lap in every timed session this weekend, Tom Sykes looks determined to make a weekend of it.
Sykes's confident Kawasaki teammate, Loris Baz, didn't have as good a session. The Frenchman made his World Superbike debut, replacing the injured Joan Lascorz, at Donington last year, wearing his number 65 helmet on his number 76 bike, and he sees this as the anniversary of his career in the big class. Unfortunately, his qualifying left him at the bottom of the fourth row after a disastrous Superpole 2 he described as being on the end of a Playstation controller, being operated badly.
Honda also had a mixture of emotions, with both Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea finding their race tyres faster than qualifiers, with Haslam pushed back to 13th while Rea took fourth. Rea very nearly didn't make it into the third Superpole session, but his luck turned and he managed to be in the wrong place at the right time, causing Carlos Checa to slow down on the very lap that had the potential to kick Rea out of contention for the last Superpole session. This track is one where bikes don't need outright top speed to win, so there is a chance he will be fighting for a podium, even if the injured Haslam cannot.
This is also one of the few tracks where the Suzuki can fight for podiums, and former British Superbike champion Leon Camier, also fighting an injury, is fast here. Qualifying in fifth place, his best of the year, this is possibly his best chance to put the Suzuki on the podium. Jules Cluzel, pole position man in World Supersport last year, didn't have as good a day of it, missing out on the last session.
The BMWs of Marco Melandri and Chaz Davies both competed in the last session, but neither was able to put their qualifying tyres to best use, with Melandri ending up ahead of Davies in sixth and seventh respectively.
Davide Giugliano once again quietly put in an impressive show on his satellite Aprilia in eighth place, but it was Niccoló Canepa in ninth that impressed the most, out qualifying both Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini. The Italian is wildcarding for Ducati to help develop the struggling Panigale 1199R.
In other news, fan favourite Noriyuki Haga will be returning to World Superbikes for a one-off race at Imola in four weeks time. Having turned down a ride with the tempestuous Effenbert Liberty Racing team at the beginning of the year, Haga will he accompanying Vittorio Iannuzzo on a second Grillini Dentalmatic BMW. While this is being touted as a single ride, rumours are going around the paddock of its being more than one race weekend, at the long-term expense of Iannuzzo.
In World Supersport everything seems to be coming up Milhouse for Sam Lowes. Qualifying in an embarrassingly dominant manner at his home round, while the second and third place men behind him in the title chase suffer from injuries, both Fabien Foret and Michael Van Der Mark carrying injuries from Monza, and his chief rival Kenan Sofuoglu is a solid 25 points behind him, it seems like the weekend for him to increase his title lead and give the home fans something to cheer about. Sofuoglu did all he could do with a solid second place in qualifying, ahead of Australian Glen Richards, reigning British Supersport champion on the Triumph.
If the weather is as promised, the same as today, the racing should follow the lap record pace qualifying we had today and be as good as we've come to expect from both classes.