News 24 Feb 2012

Rea and Parkes fastest on Friday at Phillip Island WSBK

Honda man tops Ducati runners at Phillip Island in Friday qualifying.

Honda's Jonathan Rea was fastest on Friday at Phillip Island.

Honda's Jonathan Rea was fastest on Friday at Phillip Island.

British hard charger Jonathan Rea (Honda) has uncorked a sizzling last lap to wrest pole position from the clutches of Czech star Jakub Smrz (Ducati) in the opening qualifying session ahead of Sunday’s 2012 Superbike World Championship (WSBK) opener at Phillip Island.

Rea, who’s spent the last four months training in Australia, produced a 1:31.959sec flyer at the death knell of the 45-minute session to upstage Smrz by just 0.157 seconds.

Minutes earlier, Smrz, well known for his sizzling qualifying exploits, had been a spoiler himself by removing Italian surprise packet Davide Giugliano (Ducati) off the top perch.

“The target today was to do some long runs, but I eventually worked out that wasn’t going to put me into the top five for today’s qualifying,” said Rea. “So I eventually switched to a softer tyre and after that my pace was fine.

“But tomorrow we’ll go back to some long runs as well as trying out a few radical set-up changes in the morning. We’ll see how they work out, as we’ve always got the base settings to go back to.”

Giugliano, making his first appearance in WSBK ranks after winning the 2011 Superstock 1000 Cup, was only 16th in this morning’s practice session, but he came out this afternoon and really flexed his muscles, slashing nearly a second off his best time.

The second major shock of qualifying was that Giugliano’s teammate, reigning world champion Carlos Checa, didn’t take his customary spot at the top of the timesheet, and he also gave himself a scare after his Ducati speared off the track at turn 10.

Checa, who has won the last three WSBK races at Phillip Island, eventually fell at low speed after running into the outfield retaining wall. Other riders to bite the dust on day one included internationals Joan Lascorz, Tom Sykes, Maxime Berger and Eugene Laverty, and Australia’s Josh Brookes.

2010 world champion Max Biaggi (Aprilia) was fifth in first qualifying ahead of another rookie in Niccolo Canepa (Ducati), with Sykes (Kawasaki), Lascorz (Kawasaki), Marco Melandri (BMW) and Michel Fabrizio (BMW) completing the top 10.

Bryan Staring (Kawasaki) strengthened his claims as the fastest Australian in 14th, followed by Brookes (Suzuki) in 20th, and BMW pair Mark Aitchison and David Johnson in 23rd and 24th respectively.

Meanwhile, another big British hope, Leon Haslam (BMW), miraculously returned to the racetrack just a day after an operation to insert two screws into a broken right tibia, and gritted his teeth to end up 21st. If he feels he can compete for points, Haslam, a race winner at Phillip Island in 2010, will saddle up in Sunday’s two 22-lap races.

Tomorrow the heat turns up again for the 25 riders, with second qualifying at 9.45am before the battle for final grid positions in the three-stage Superpole shootout at 3.00pm.

In World Supersport, Broc Parkes’ ominous form at Phillip Island has continued with the Newcastle flyer slotting his Honda into provisional pole position.

But he had to work hard to get there, with just 0.275 seconds separating the top five riders in today’s 45-minute session. Parkes was followed closely by Frenchman Jules Cluzel and Briton Sam Lowes, also on Hondas, with Kawasaki duo Fabien Foret and Kenan Sofuoglu next in line.

With such a tight grid, all the pieces are falling into place for a hard-fought 21-lap race on Sunday afternoon.

“Considering I had a late start to the season, I couldn’t be happier with how things are going,” said Parkes. “And what’s even more pleasing is that I’ve really just been concentrating on trying to do long runs and working on tyre set-up, but the times are still coming. That’s given me a lot of confidence.

“Sunday’s race is all going to come down to the last 10 laps and who can preserve their tyres the most. But I know what to expect and I’m ready to put on a great show.”

In 2012, Parkes has returned to the same Dutch-based team he rode for in 2004, when he finished second in the championship behind compatriot Karl Muggeridge.

Australia’s second rider, Jed Metcher, finished up 24th in opening qualifying as he continues to iron out some of the bugs in a Yamaha he is riding for the first time this weekend.

The 21-year-old Melbourne rider will be looking to make huge inroads when final qualifying is held at 4.05pm tomorrow.

Also on the Saturday program will be a huge catalogue of national-level support races for Historic, Supersport, Superstock 600 and 250cc Production competitors. On-track action will commence at 8.25am, and continue through to 5.45pm.