World Superbike’s return to the iconic American track has a rather unusual schedule. A weekend without Superstock racing isn’t that unusual, but one without World Supersport, especially when the title is one point from being settled, is. Supported by the national AMA Superbike series, races are forced to run at unusual times, with three sessions today, including an hour-long extended timed qualifying session that allowed riders who have never seen the track before to get more familiar with its unique character. The first race is scheduled for the Saturday, instead of its usual Sunday slot, with the second race at the exact same time the following day.
While Leon Haslam is the only regular to have raced a superbike around the track, all of the men with prior MotoGP experience will have raced here before. Much like Istanbul, this meant Tom Sykes, with no GP experience, was the only one of the title contenders to be unfamiliar with the track. This didn’t slow him down, however, and as the day went on, he inched closer and closer to the top, passing the local men who made an early show at the sharp end.
One name, though, stood out all day. Standing in for the injured Carlos Checa, Niccolo Canepa very quickly got to grips with the Ducati Panigale and almost ended the day at the top of the charts. While it could be easy to point at the new configuration and parts on the Panigale, or that the track traditionally suits Ducatis, or Canepa’s previous experience at the track, but his speed all day was impressive. As Canepa is competing in the Superstock championship, it’s not known if he will be replacing Checa for the remaining races. Good results could determine this.
The Jordan Motorsports riders, Danny Eslick and Roger Lee Hayden, made a good showing in the morning, showing where experience helped, but as the day went on, their advantage was crushed by the series regulars, with Chaz Davies, Sylvain Guintoli, Marco Melandri, Eugene Laverty and Tom Sykes, the top five in the title challenge, all having their moments in the sun. With wildcards being a rarity due to other championships splitting from the World Superbike formula, or having fewer riders able to join in due to their not running Pirelli tyres, this is one of the few tracks where local talent can still mix it with the international stars.