Suzuki Alstare's Leon Haslam took the provisional pole for the second round of the World Superbike Championship in Portimao, Portugal.The young Brit, who went 1-2 in the opening round of the championship at Phillip Island, lapped the 2.76-mile track in 1:43.476 mins. on a mild Friday afternoon.The time was an improvement of .3 sec. on the opening session from last year, when the race was run seven months later as the season finale in October. Fastest on that day was Ducati Xerox's Michel Fabrizio, who came second to Haslam today by only .032 sec.

"It is all feeling good here even though we are not as quick as we were at the winter test. We did a lot of laps on the same tire to get ready for the race and it is pretty satisfying to be fast on the first day," Haslam said.Fabrizio, seen below,  was content to be within striking distance of the pole."So today it's Haslam, me and Checa at the top but the Yamahas of Toseland and Crutchlow seem very strong too," he said. "As I've said before we have a long season ahead of us! Anyway, I'm fairly happy and haven't had any real problems today even though I only really made that one fast lap right at the end. We need to continue with the work tomorrow, the important thing is to find good race pace but I'm confident and after today we're feeling positive I would say."Althea Racing Ducati's Carlos Checa, who beat Haslam in race two in Australia, finished just behind Fabrizio, his speed noticeably improving when he switched from the harder to the softer race tire. Alitalia Aprilia's Max Biaggi was at the end of a tightly packed provisional front row. First to fourth was covered by .212 sec."We worked in the morning session to find a good set-up and as soon as we used the softer tire in the afternoon session we were something like one second faster," Checa said. "We are only losing some time in the final split, so we are now working on how to make that up."Yamaha Sterilgarda rider James Toseland was fifth, having been the first rider to get into the 1:44's, despite still being hobbled by a broken left hand. Teammate Cal Crutchlow was just behind, by .034 sec."We've made some really good progress with our testing last week in Misano, we've gone in the direction we wanted to with the engine and electronics," Toseland said. "We had a lot to try today, and we've gone in a really positive direction for the race set up with tire life and things like that." Said Crutchlow, "I'm a lot happier today. We have definitely made improvements from Australia and we've also come back to a track with lots of grip. As the grip levels of the track improved over the sessions so have we. We still need to work on our bike to improve on really slippery track conditions and optimize our settings and performance."The rest of row two was filled by the private Ducatis of Shane Byrne (Althea Racing) and Jakub Smrz (Team PATA B&G Racing).Row three was headed by Biaggi's teammate Leon Camier from HANNspree Ten Kate Honda's Jonathan Rea, who had a minor crash in the morning. Nori Haga, on the second Ducati Xerox bike, and BMW's Troy Corser completed the row. Haga said the team had gotten "a lot done today and have found a good rear tire solution," though they neede to try a a different front tire and suspension setting on Saturday. "I think if we find better front feeling, that should provide me with better turning, which was the thing that was lacking today; a few of the tighter corners were giving me problems. I also tried a mini long-run and the tire didn’t seem bad but I need to improve the lap times, so we’ll be working towards that tomorrow.”Corser said a dirty track in the morning made it difficult to get tracion with the harder tire, and that he was also off on his gearing.  "The bike was revving a lot but not really going fast enough," he said. More changes came in the afternoon, with a different front fork, which "improved the braking but on the other made the bike a little more unstable."In the end we didn't have time to improve any more. We'll now analye the data and see what we can do to make the bike easier to ride. At this track it isreally difficult to put a perfect lap together. It is easy to lose time, but hard to make it up."Team Pedercini Kawasaki's Roger Lee Hayden was 23rd fastest, but was quicker than he'd gone during the first Superbike test of the year here in January.

Friday Qualifying1. Leon Haslam (Suzuki) 1:43.4762. Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) 1:43.5083. Carlos Checa (Ducati) 1:43.6454. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) 1:43.6885. James Toseland (Yamaha) 1:43.7356. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1:43.7697. Shane Byrne (Ducati) 1:43.8818. Jakub Smrz (Ducati) 1:43.9329. Leon Camier (Aprilia) 1:44.04110. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:44.04211. Nori Haga (Ducati) 1:44.09812. Troy Corser (BMW) 1:44.20313. Max Neukirchner (Honda) 1:44.27214. Sylvain Guintoli (Suzuki) 1:1:44.42315. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 1:44.559Other:23. Roger Lee Hayden (Kawasaki) 1:46.657

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By Cycle News Staff

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