Briton Leon Haslam has produced a powerhouse performance to claim pole position for tomorrow’s opening round of the 2010 Yamaha Phillip Island Superbike World Championship.
The two-time British Superbike runner-up blitzed the pack in today’s three-stage Superpole shootout, producing a tactical masterpiece – setting his best lap early on and then sitting back as everyone tried to return fire.
Despite a number of riders pulling out all stops, Haslam remained in control as he eventually stopped the clock with a best lap of 1:31.229, just a fraction in arrears of the fastest ever time (1:31.050) around the 4.445km circuit.
It is 26-year-old Haslam’s first pole position in world superbike, it what has been a seamless transition from privateer Honda rider into a factory Suzuki pilot. Haslam was sixth in last year’s championship, which included a podium finish in the corresponding opening round at Phillip Island.
“I am absolutely delighted to get my first Superpole, but the race is more important,” said Haslam. “But I want to say first round with the team and everyone is working together fantastic and I have felt at home here at Suzuki since the very first time I tested.
“Sitting in the garage watching the other guys go round and the times falling was more nerve-racking than being out on the track.
“Today once again we concentrated on getting a good race set up and we did a lot of time on race rubber. My aim is to be in the first three in the first eight or nine laps and that will be a good position for the end of the race. It’s not what you can do in the first five laps; it’s what you do in the last five laps here that is the most important.”
Haslam will be joined on the front row in tomorrow’s two 22-lap races by Ducati rider Michel Fabrizio, Yamaha rookie Cal Crutchlow, and former 500cc Grand Prix winner Carlos Checa (Ducati).
Australian stars Troy Corser (BMW) and Chris Vermeulen (Kawasaki) have left themselves with plenty of work to do, and will start alongside each other on the fourth row of the grid. Fellow Australians Andrew Pitt (BMW) and Josh Brookes (Honda) – deputising for injured countryman Broc Parkes – will start from the fifth row.
Despite lean pickings in Superpole, Corser believes that with “clean” opening laps he’ll be able to circulate with the front pack.
“I feel like I’m achieving faster lap times with less risk,” said Corser. “We made good steps forward with the bike’s settings today, and I feel more confident on the bike.
“In the first session of the Superpole we had to use a qualifying tyre just to make sure to stay in the competition. Actually I set my fastest time of the Superpole on a race tyre. Of course, I am a little disappointed with the starting position, but if I get a good start I am confident of setting good lap times.”
Meanwhile, Vermeulen is optimistic that he can still challenge for top eight finishes tomorrow.
“In general we’ve improved the bike every time we have got on it,” said the Queenslander, a former MotoGP winner. “Today in Superpole was the first time I used a qualifying tyre and we’re trying to get an understanding of that.
“In the last lap we had a small issue with the bike, a fuel problem, and I had to back off at the end and was not able to get the best out of the bike.
“We are working hard to get durability out of the bike. Here it’s important to be fast in the last 10 laps, and I think we can have a good race and challenge for the top eight.”
Although Pitt knows he won’t be a contender for top honours, he’s delighted with the progress he has made on his privateer BMW after such an abbreviated pre-season.
“We’re going forward every time, and the reality is it is only the fourth day on the bike,” said Pitt. “Before Superpole we were 1.2secs off the fastest guy, and we are happy with that. We are going better and faster than we thought we would, but it’s just very tight at the top.”
Another rookie, Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, will lead away row two, to be joined by Jakub Smrz (Ducati), Jonathan Rea (Honda) and James Toseland (Yamaha).
The top six riders in Superpole all eclipsed Corser’s current lap record of 1:31.826, which is set to broken tomorrow if conditions remain mild.
Toseland is one of three riders with world superbike-winning experience at Phillip Island, alongside Corser and Japan’s Noriyuki Haga (Ducati).
Haga and another championship heavyweight, Italy’s Max Biaggi (Aprilia), will be lurking on row three tomorrow. In all 23 riders will compete, with Pitt’s BMW teammate Roland Resch a scratching after crashing hard in this morning’s second qualifying session.
Tomorrow’s WSBK races will be held at 12.00pm and 3.30pm respectively.
In World Supersport, Kawasaki’s Joan Lascorz will lead away the 17-rider field, from Honda trio Kenan Sofuoglu, Michele Pirro and Eugene Laverty. The 21-lap race will start at 1.30pm.
Leon Haslam: “I am absolutely delighted to get my first Superpole victory but the results in the races tomorrow are more important. Sitting in the garage watching the other guys go round in final Superpole and seeing their times falling was more nerve-racking than being out on the track and riding and it was a great relief when it was over. When we use qualifying tyres I have to use a slightly different riding style than when I am on race rubber. Today once again we concentrated on getting a good race set up and did a lot of time on race rubber getting ready for race day. From previous data, we knew there was a certain way of working at this track to keep progressing and we did that rather than just chase any lap times. My aim is to be in the first three in the first eight or nine laps and that will put me in a good position a good position at the end of the race. It is not what you can do in the first five laps; it’s what you do in the last five laps here that is most important. Although this is my first race weekend with the team, everyone is working together fantastically well. I have felt at home here at Suzuki Alstare since the very first time we tested and the boys have made my life easy.”
Michel Fabrizio: “Today’s Superpole was very difficult but I am very happy with the final result. I lost out on the pole by just a fraction of a second which is a shame, but it’s not the first time that that has happened and the important thing is that I’m on the front row tomorrow. I was happy with my flying lap, a clean lap, with no-one in front of me. Tomorrow will be an equally difficult challenge, and various riders, me, Haslam, Checa, Biaggi and Nori will surely be in contention. We know we have a good race pace and I’m feeling confident for the races.”
Cal Crutchlow: “This morning wasn’t too bad for me, I’m pleased enough with the race pace. I think we’re struggling for the podium but that’s what I’m aiming for as always. If we can be somewhere near I’ll be happy! We managed to get a good lap out at the end of Superpole and I was pleased with that. Going into the weekend we weren’t even in the points, Yamaha has done a really good job this week and we’ve worked some stuff out. Hopefully we can keep the cooler conditions as they’ll help us tomorrow. Let’s see what we can do.”
James Toseland: “I was annoyed with myself for the highside yesterday, we had some issues with the electronics which caught me out so today was damage limitation for that. The balance and the bike itself has improved a lot over the weekend but the electronics now need to catch up a bit. I hurt my hand in the fall which is quite painful, especially as this is a really physical circuit and you need your strength to get round it. I made a mistake on my first tyre in Superpole this afternoon which forced me to use the qualifier in the first session, so I had to use a race tyre for the last session. I knew if I could get into the last eight then I’d be happy with the second row. We’ve got quite a lot more to do with the bike, but to see where we were before the weekend and to now be Cal on the first row and me on the second just shows you what a good job the team has done. They’ve put us in a position where we can have a go.”
Noriyuki Haga: “In the second phase of the Superpole I went out on a race tyre but even though it felt like a clean lap, the time was not quick enough and unfortunately that put me out of the fight, and I finished tenth. Tomorrow I will of course need to make a fantastic start but I am confident that I am able to do that. I apologise to Ducati for the fact that I’m on the third row but I will, as ever, do my best in the races. Last year I started from 13th and won the race so I know it is possible to achieve a great result regardless of grid position.”
Sylvain Guintoli: “I thought I had done enough to get on the front row, but then I lost the position right at the end of final Superpole. It’s a bit disappointing because it would’ve been nice to be on the front row near my team mate and it would’ve been great for the team. But row two is OK, and as long as I get good starts, I think I can get good results. The important thing though is that I am really happy with the bike and how everything is going at the moment. I used race rubber in Superpole 1 and then qualifying tyres in Superpole 2 and 3. I feel very comfortable on race tyres and I am enjoying myself here. Today we started with the same base set-up as yesterday and just made minor adjustments throughout the day. Also, I tried to improve the way I ride the bike and get more out of it, but I am just so happy at the moment and cannot wait for the races.”
Carlos Checa :”I’m happy with today’s qualifying sessions and with my Superpole, because we fought for the pole position since the last few minutes of the last Superpole session. Like the last test in Portimao, today as well I was not able to take advantage from the qualifying tires. Anyway I’m satisfied because we are close to the fastest riders, and because today I also found a fast rhythm rather quickly. Tomorrow I’ll start from the first row and this is an important result for me and for my team, I want to thank all of them for the great job they’re doing.”
Shane Byrne :”Obviously I’m really very disappointed. I had a big crash yesterday and today it seems difficult for me to find the rhythm of my previous test. In Superpole we used qualifying tires to try to get through, but something was wrong because the tires have less grip than the usual race tire. I know tomorrow’s races will be very difficult for me. I’ll be starting from the fifth row and it won’t be easy, but I’ll try to do my best and I hope to reach good results.”