Liberty Racing Team Effenbert's Jakub Smrz led a frantic first World Superbike qualifying session at Donington Park today, the Czech rider losing the top spot early in the 45-minute session and then getting it back right at the very end. When it was all said and done, the top 12 riders were all within a second of Smrz' best.
BMW's Leon Haslam got things rolling early when he turned a 1:30.311, which was quicker than Tom Sykes' morning-session best. Althea Ducati's Carlos Checa, who'd suffered a rare crash in the morning session, took over at the top before losing it to Smrz. Then it was Sykes' turn, then Haslam again before Smrz led them all into the 1:29s. From there the times kept dropping until it looked as thought Honda's Jonathan Rea had things locked up when he put down a 1:29.394 with just over three minutes to go in the session.
But Smrz wasn't finished and a minute later he posted the time that would seal the deal - 1:29.336. Any chance Rea had of retaliating ended with his second crash of the day on his final lap.
Rea escaped injury and held on to the second best time - just .058 of a second behind Smrz. Checa managed the third quickest - a 1:29.507 - with Haslam settling for the outside of row one in provisional qualifying.
Fixi Crescent Suzuki's Leon Camier ended up fifth, the Brit also taking a brief turn at the top of the timesheets. He led Sykes and the factory Kawasaki, BMW Motorrad Italia's Michel Fabrizio, Aprilia's Max Biaggi and Checa's teammate Davide Giugliano.
Fabrizio's BMW teammate Ayrton Badovini rounded out the top 10 with a late charge after an early-session crash.
Several stars ended up outside the top 10 with BMW's Marco Melandri 12th, ParkinGo Aprilia's Chaz Davies 13th and Aprilia's Eugene Laverty 16th. Even Laverty, however, was just 1.2 seconds adrift of Smrz.
1. Jakub Smrz (Ducati) 1:29.336
2. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:29.394
3. Carlos Checa (Ducati) 1:29.507
4. Leon Haslam (BMW) 1:29.604
5. Leon Camier (Suzuki) 1:29.614
6. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 1:29.719
7. Michel Fabrizio (BMW) 1:29.918
8. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) 1:29.973
9. Davide Giugliano (Ducati) 1:29.977
10. Ayrton Badovini (BMW) 1:29.986