Brit Kawasaki ace Tom Sykes was quickest in the first official qualifying session for the 14th and final round of the 2012 eni Superbike World Championship at Magny Cours in France.
Piloting the lead works ZX-10R Ninja, Sykes turned a lap at 1:38.2, almost .4 of a second quicker than second best – a big margin in the ultra-competitive SBK series. Runner-up honors went to Carlos Checa, the outgoing SBK World Champion turning a lap at 1:38.64 on the lead Althea Ducati 1098R.
Third best was Marco Melandri on the BMW Motorrad S1000RR entry, with a lap at 1:38.742. Like Sykes, Melandri is in the running for the 2012 series title. Aprilia RSV4 Factory rider Max Biaggi, a former series Champ, heads the standings from Sykes and long-shot Melandri. Biaggi was seventh best with a lap of 1:39.14.
Checa’s team-mate Davide Giugliano was on form aboard the second Althea Ducati, netting fourth best lap with a 1:38.962, the final rider under the 1:39 barrier.
Fastest in the opening morning session, Ten Kate Honda’s Jonathan Rea was fifth in the PM with a lap of 1:39.01, followed closely by the BMW Motorrad Italia Goldbet entry of Michel Fabrizio at 1:39.13. Next year, the Italian BMW squad will become the works entry, with Melandri and Chaz Davies handling the S1000RR riding duties.
Outgoing BMW factory rider Leon Haslam, in his last ride for the works German squad before he switches to the Netherlands-based works Honda entry, was eighth best with a time of 1:39.149.
Ninth best belonged to Sylvain Guintoli, the British based French rider aboard the second Pata Ducati 1098R. Top Suzuki was the FIXI Crescent GSX-R1000 entry of Leon Camier in tenth, setting a best time of 1:39.285.
Biggest crowd response belonged to the second works Kawasaki of teen-age sensation Loris Baz, the French rookie SBK rider earning a big cheer from his many fans in the hairpin grandstand. A winner earlier in the season at a very wet Silverstone, Baz placed a disappointing 15th, but would still make it into Saturday’s Tissot-SuperPole sessions based on that time. The top 16 riders from the Friday afternoon session and tomorrow morning’s second Q will earn a spot in Saturday afternoon’s three part “knock down” SuperPole.