Qualifying at Portimão was all about dodging the rain. As the clouds loomed pendulously overhead, riders had to time their runs in Superpole well, in case the rain fell. As it was, after the first session, Superpole two was rapidly abandoned and, along with Superpole three, it was replaced with a single wet 20 minute session. It didn't rain.
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World Supersport qualifying was done with a backdrop of threatening weather.
Sam Lowes was able to fend off both the rain and Kenan Sofuoglu. The white flags came out twice during the session, yet Lowes was still able to get within a fifth of a second of Sofuoglu's outright best lap from 2010 and lead Sofuoglu and Sheridan Morais by over half a second. The front row is made up of three manufacturers, with Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda all represented.
The top riders that qualified into the Superpole sessions knew that they didn't need to set records in the first session as they wanted what all Superpole One contenders wanted; a ticket to Superpole Two. The unpredictable weather would catch the organisers out, playing for safety trumping the planned schedule. Qualifying tyres were once again coloured with a pink band instead of the usual yellow.
As riders settled into the chase for perfect race settings, it was Tom Sykes that posted the fastest time ahead of Eugene Laverty and Loris Baz. Baz was impressively turning out around as many 1'43 laps as both Laverty and Sykes and could prove to be a fly in the ointment of the usual front runners.
Sheridan Morais and Jack Kennedy headed off Sam Lowes and Kenan Sofuoglu in a session whose top four was contained within two tenths of a second. Michael Van Der Mark and Fabien Foret both showed signs of recovery filling out the provisional second row.
Repeating his result from Friday, Jonathan Rea, in the last few minutes of the qualifying session, grabbed provisional pole. The Aprilias of Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli, also on the provisional front row, were the only ones recording multiple 1'43 laps, however.
In response to the announcement that new rules will be coming into play in 2014, with the aim of making Superbike racing more affordable and with more competitive machines on the grid, Jonathan Rea put his beleaguered Honda Fireblade in provisional pole position, ahead of the two men that won here last year.
Jonathan Rea grabs and holds on to provisional pole, in spite of a last minute onslaught from both Eugene Laverty and Tom Sykes. All three men kept the rest of the field from the top spot throughout the session and were separated at the end by under a tenth of a second.
Sam Lowes once again sets provisional pole, half a second faster than his rival Kenan Sofuoglu. Jack Kennedy continues to impress with the last provisional front row place. while David Salom, fourth fastest and returning from injury, is the only other rider within a second of the fast Lowes.
Tom Sykes made the most of the clearing conditions and rode into his familiar top spot, fresh from his double victory two weeks ago. Michel Fabrizio continued his run of good form, setting the second fastest time of the morning.
After a damn grey morning, Sam Lowes opened the weekend with a fastest lap some five seconds off the record, demonstrating that the track wasn't ready for the fast times. The session was split with a red flagged six minutes from the end, but there were no major incidents recorded.
The reduced grid in World Superbike really shows up when one or two riders are injured and cannot race. Losing both Leon Haslam and Carlos Checa from the competition today hammered home the reasoning behind Dorna's proposed financial limiting, especially after the predictable departure of Effenbert Liberty Racing. Seventeen riders competed for points in the second race, meaning only two of them wouldn't score points. With the good weather, there were luckily very few DNFs, which would have made it look even worse.
The ever-reducing grid was dealt another blow for race two as Carlos Checa decided, after his poor performance this morning, to sit the second race out, joining Leon Haslam on the scratch bench.
Tom Sykes dragged Jonathan Rea to the first corner again, but the Aprilias of Sylvain Guintoli and Eugene Laverty once again prised the Honda off second place, dumping him back to 4th. As Laverty took second place from Guintoli, the third Aprilia of Davide Giugliano slipped past Rea and Sykes set the lap record.
World Supersport benefits from the sheer volume of riders on near equal machinery and varying levels of skill. Normally, this means that the racing is cut and thrust and close, front to back.
Today, however, was different. Yes, there was action from second place back, but with Sam Lowes starting the race at almost a second a lap faster than everyone else, and finishing with an eleven second lead in a twenty two lap race, this cannot be described as anything but dominant. He leaves with the Gentleman's Set of pole position, lap record and race win.
Leon Haslam was withdrawn from the race by his team. It was obvious Haslam wanted to race, but cooler heads prevailed, taking the decision away from the rider. The good weather we were promised turned up and gave us the closest to a processional race that Superbikes can give us.