2012 Aragon WSBK Saturday Roundup - Superpole Blitz
The Spanish hot weather struck Aragon again, with track temperatures starting at 37°C in the morning reaching 58°C in the afternoon.
It was in these conditions that Tom Sykes went 0.7 seconds faster than any Superbike has ever gone around this track, at just the right time in Superpole 3. It seems like he can almost always pull the best lap out in the final qualifying session to earn pole position. With six pole positions out of eight race weekends, he has already matched Carlos Checa's tally of pole positions from 2011, Cal Crutchlow's from 2010 and is five away from matching Ben Spies's record-setting 11 poles in a season with eight weekends left. Unlike Checa and Spies, though, he's not converting those pole positions into a championship challenge for reasons that have been discussed many a time. If his Kawasaki were kinder on tyres, or if he were kinder on them himself, he would certainly have a lot more podiums and wins this year. Still, he's the King of Saturday and I'm sure his new wife would appreciate another Tissot watch.
Championship leader Max Biaggi and his Aprilia team mate Eugene Laverty have been enjoying the speed advantage of their bike, exceeding speeds of 325kmh that anything but a BMW had no chance of matching. Biaggi and Italian rival Marco Melandri, both winners here last year, have spent much of the weekend exchanging top spots throughout and, Sykes's wonder-lap aside, have set the qualifying pace around 1'57.2. With Biaggi in second and Laverty with a season's best 3rd on the grid, both factory Aprilias look strong which plays right into Biaggi's title contention.
Fourth and fifth place are also shared by BMW team-mates, with Leon Haslam on the front row and Marco Melandri on the second, having found his Superpole 3 qualifying tyre unpredictable. Both riders should be in a good position to make use of their superior horsepower, if they manage their tyres properly in the heat.
Jonathan Rea came to Aragon having missed out last year and set about learning the track in the heat. Friday had him down where his Honda team mate Hiroshi Aoyama usually qualifies, but, even missing out on a lot of time through a bike fault, he seemed to be content with his pace. Today, he kept improving and improving, eventually qualifying in sixth place. He says his gearbox setting isn't perfect, due to a lack of data from last year, and he's going into the race “a little bit blind” without a full-length run on race rubber.
Carlos Checa came third last year, so it may be a little soon to write off his Ducati as not working on this track, with elevation changes and a long straight rewarding the more powerful bikes over the Ducati, but until Superpole, he and his team mate Davide Giugliano were constantly outside the top eight. When he made it through to Superpole 3, a lot of people were surprised. With the kind of season he's having, a podium and a DNF would be the typical sort of finish he'd get, but it would be a surprise if this bike could better this track lap after lap.
The last man on the second row of the grid is Chaz Davies on his Parkin Go Aprilia. It would be unfair to place this solely on his bike, as he beat both GoldBet BMWs to get to Superpole 3, but the power advantage must have helped.
World Supersport qualifying initially favoured the Honda CBR600RRs, but as the weekend progressed, the Kawasaki ZX-6Rs started matching them. Jules Cluzel was the man to take the pole position on his PTR Honda, ahead of a surprising Sheridan Morais. Morais even beat his faster Kawasaki Lorenzini team mate, and championship leader, Kenan Sofuoglu to second position.
Sunday may be a little cooler than Friday and Saturday, and whispered rumours of rain have been heard, but it should favour outright speed. This means BMW and Aprilia should be challenging for wins, with Melandri and Biaggi possibly sharing wins like last year. Rea needs to work hard to keep his second place in the championship.