Now we have seen the new format for qualifying and the changes are not as drastic as they may have seemed on paper. Familiarity with the way the MotoGP system worked helped, as did the fact that the new format isn’t that different from the old one.
The only difference seems to be that Tom Sykes crashes in the new system.
Sylvain Guintoli is no stranger to qualifying well, with his pole position tally now equalling that of Jonathan Rea and placing him in joint second place for the most pole positions of any of the current World Superbike riders. While it only takes three pole positions to get this second place, you have to realise Tom Sykes has nineteen of them to his name, not leaving many for other riders to get. Guintoli had five front row starts last year, including a pole position, and is with the same team this year, which can only be an advantage. His teammate Marco Melandri in third, showed that he is perfectly at ease on his new bike, especially one that was hurriedly rebuilt after a crash.
Melandri replaced Eugene Laverty who was a long-term Aprilia rider, dating back to 250 GPs. Laverty was second in the title chase and helped get Aprilia the 2013 manufacturer’s championship, leaving many pondering why the Italian factory replaced their Irish rider with an Italian. Voltcom Crescent Suzuki were able to sign him up in spite of rumours that he would follow Gigi Dall’Igna to Ducati. Laverty and his rookie teammate Alex Lowes were at or near the top throughout most of qualifying and while Laverty is pleased with his second row start, Lowes really believed he could do better. Being disappointed with a second row start on your debut race is promising, and fans of British Superbike will tell you how fast Lowes can be.
Davide Giugliano didn’t quite match Carlos Checa’s pole position of last year, but after all the bad press the Ducati Panigale has been getting, a second place start must bring the Italian factory team some relief. Chaz Davies in eleventh place looked on pace to do a lot better, but losing drive out of the last corner cost him a few positions. Davies will likely need more time to adapt to the V-twin engine, something his teammate has a lot more experience with. The experienced Ducati test rider Niccolo Canepa, on the EVO Panigale, was one place ahead of him, which goes to show how much experience can help.
Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam have two Kawasakis between their Hondas, with Loris Baz in seventh, next to Rea, and Tom Sykes in eighth. Haslam’s ninth place was achieved by his qualifying top in Superpole 1, saving him from the fifth row, or worse. Sykes was on pace for pole position, and was aiming for a 1'29 lap, when he was picked up by wind that unloaded his suspension and sent him to the tarmac.
Two EVO bikes did indeed make the later Superpole session, with Canepa qualifying in free practice and David Salom beating Tony Elias to the last remaining promotion slot in Superpole 1.
All that is left now is racing and there are no format changes there. Two Superbike races, split by a Supersport race. While worries about the tyres in Supersport are raising their ugly heads, it’s likely down to Kenan Sofuoglu to manage the race, while Michael Van Der Mark, PJ Jacobsen, Kev Coghlan and Jules Cluzel try to keep him honest.