Yamaha’s Ben Spies made a stunning World Superbike debut by taking pole position in the first ever knock-out Superpole session at Phillip Island, Australia.
Despite this being his first race, Spies showed the experience of a veteran. He and crew chief Tom Houseworth chose a soft race tire for the first 12-minute session, then one qualifier in each of the final two 12-minute sessions.That strategy produced an early gap of .527 secs. to second fastest Jonathan Rea (Ten Kate Honda), who had been fastest after Saturday’s second qualifying session. The more than half a second gap was an eternity in a Superpole field of 20 riders that was covered by a second.Spies was the seventh fastest of the eight riders to move through from the second to the third round of the new Superpole. But as soon as he got up to speed Spies threw down a lap that gave him his healthy cushion.The order near the top didn’t change until the final minute when Aprilia’s Max Biaggi dropped Rea to third with a lap of 1:31.402 that was no threat to Spies.in the final minute, Spies was on the track with one shot to better his best, but he couldn’t. And Rea never went back out for a second fun. That allowed Biaggi to push him to third, one better than provisional pole setter Jakub Smrz (Guandalini Ducati).The lap of 1:31.069, which Spies turned about halfway into the 12-minute session, was well under the 1:31.493 that reigning World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss clocked to claim last year’s pole position.”Congratulations to the other guys,” Spies said after his first Superpole. “I know how fast that lap was and it was very difficult. I never got to do the old Superpole before, but the new Superpole was very good. It builds a lot of anticipation, and a lot of nerves inside the pit boxes. So to get the first pole of the year is great.”The race will be hard and I think there will be seven or eight guys who will be up front. We got a front row starting spot and that is all that matters. The bike has been good, the team is great-first class-and I hope we can keep improving. But the top 12 guys or so here are real fast. It will be hard to pick up where we left off in America, but at least we made the right start. I was a little worried when I saw everybody going so fast, but we have a good race set-up and I pulled that one out of the bag. I shut my eyes in a couple of corners and got it done. I’m happy for the team, but it’s still going to be a very hard race tomorrow.”Ducati Xerox’s Michel Fabrizio was fifth fastest on the row two pole. Sharing the row were Stiggy Honda’s Leon Haslam, HANNSPREE Ten Kate Honda’s Carlos Checa, and DFX Corse Ducati’s Regis Laconi. Laconi actually had the fastest Superpole time. The Frenchman clocked a 1:31.050 in the second knockout round, but the pole position time is taken from the fastest rider in the third round.The first ever running of the knock-out Superpole claimed a number of the top riders. The 50-minute session began with the 20 fastest riders on track for 12 minutes. Only the top 16 made it through to the second 12 minute session, which began after a seven minute delay. And only the top eight riders would make it out of the second session into the final 12 minute round, which began after a second seven-minute delay.Among those not making it through to the final round were Nori Haga, in his debut for the Ducati Xerox team. BMW’s Troy Corser, who was a strong fifth in final qualifying, failed to make it out of the first round. The strategy of race tire, qualifier, qualifier that was so successful for Spies didn’t work for Corser. And there were no Suzukis among the final eight, with Alstare Suzuki’s Yukio Kagayama the highest placing at 11th. Alstare Suzuki’s Max Neukirchner stayed in the pits during the second round, thinking that a high-1:31 would get him through to the final round. It wouldn’t. The cut-off was Carlos Checa’s 1:31.775.Superpole:1. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:31.0692. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) 1:31.4023. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:31.5964. Jakub Smrz (Ducati) 1:31.6005. Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) 1:31.8376. Leon Haslam (Honda)1:32.1127. Carlos Checa (Honda) 1:32.5378. Regis Laconi (Ducati) 1:32.649