Ben Spies is proving to be a quick study. Riding at a track he'd never seen before, Spies set the fastest time in today's opening qualifying session for Saturday's two World Superbike races at the Losail Circuit in Qatar.The Texan and his factory Yamaha R1 circulated at a best of 1:58.886, the only rider in the 1:58s and .291 of a second better than Hannspree Ten Kate Honda's Jonathan Rea and almost a full second quicker than third-placed Carlos Checa - the Spaniard also on a Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR."Today went pretty good, the result will be more important Saturday but every time I come to the track with Yamaha the bike is getting better and it's already such a fun bike to ride," Spies said in a release issued by the series promoters. "The team's working really good, but there are so many people that are fast out there that if you have just an okay session you end up behind. It's going to be a tough year, but we're clicking off session by session and we'll see where we're going to end up."The fastest lap of last year's race was set by Fonsi Nieto at 1:59.156 with Troy Corser earning pole position a year ago with his 1:58.053 during Superpole.Fourth fastest today was Aprilia's Max Biaggi with Ten Kate Honda's Ryuichi Kiyonari fifth, Sterilgarda Ducati's Shane Byrne sixth, Guandalini Racing Ducati's Jakub Smrz seventh and Ducati Xerox's Michel Fabrizio eighth.DFX Corse Ducati's Regis Laconi and Aprilia's Shinya Nakano rounded out the top 10 in today's opening session. World Championship points leader Noriyuki Haga, meanwhile, ended the day 11th.The two factory BMWs ended the day 16th and 17th with Troy Corser leading this teammate Ruben Xaus by .2 of a second. Alstare Suzuki's Max Neukirchner, who led this morning's practice session, ended up 13th. Spies had been second behind the German in the morning session, but chopped off some 1.5 seconds in the afternoon qualifying session.Tomorrow, Spies will attempt to earn pole position for the second time in the first two World Superbike races of his career.Thursday Qualifying

1. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 1:58.886

2. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:59.177

3. Carlos Checa (Honda) 1:59.731

4. Max Biaggi (Aprilia) 1:59.826

5. Ryuichi Kiyonari (Honda) 1:59.937

6. Shane Byrne (Ducati) 1:59.980

7. Jakub Smrz (Ducati) 2:00.024

8. Michel Fabrizio (Ducati) 2:00.101

9. Regis Laconi (Ducati) 2:00.232

10. Shinya Nakano (Aprilia) 2:00.238The following is from BMW...BMW Motorrad Motorsport riders Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus completed a hard day's graft at the dusty Losail circuit today, finishing in 16th and 17th places respectively. Although neither were happy with their first qualifying positions, both were more than happy to have given their engineers and technicians lots to think about ahead of tomorrow's practice and qualifying sessions. With no previous data available, Troy and Ruben had to start from scratch and work their way through as many different things as possible to find a good set-up for their bikes. American Ben Spies (Yamaha) set the day's fastest lap, with Jonathan Rea (Honda) second and Carlos Checa (Honda) third.Troy - 16th, 2:00.455

Nothing special was wrong today, except that I thought that my bike felt slow. Checking the speed trap figures proved this but, at the moment, we are not sure why. It certainly felt pretty good in the turns, but it just lacked top end speed. We used just one bike today, because we wanted to do as much work as possible on it and keep things progressing. In retrospect that might not have been a good idea, but as we have no reference points for this bike here we just have to work as hard as we can and keep going forward, so it was better to work with the one bike.Ruben - 17th, 2:00.610

We did the usual stuff today and just kept on working, working, working. I'm happy with the top speed of my bike and I don't think my lap times are so bad. We didn't make any big, big changes today, but worked on improving our understanding of the bike and trying to keep going forward. Here it's all about staring from a real base (because we have no data from before), putting in a lot of work and giving our engineers lots to think about and work on. Tomorrow I'll try a softer tyre and see if it gives me better grip, which should mean a reduction in my lap times.The following is from Suzuki...The first day of practice and qualifying ended in a disappointing fashion for Team Suzuki Alstare Brux riders Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama but both are confident of significant improvement in tomorrow's final qualifying. Max and Yukio suffered rear grip problems in the afternoon qualifying session but both know which direction to take in the morning session tomorrow and believe that Superpole will hold no threats to their advancement up the grid. American Ben Spies (Yamaha) set the day's fastest lap, with Jonathan Rea (Honda) second and Carlos Checa (Honda) third.Max - 13th, 2:00.345

This afternoon, I had a big problem with lack of rear grip. The front felt stable, but the back was not and I just couldn't push any harder. We had made some changes (in the bike's balance) from the morning and the track temperature was up a bit (but not enough to have any drastic effects), but the way the bike worked was very different. I think we went in the wrong direction in the afternoon, but the good news is that we know what we did and we can go back to the set-up that worked in the morning without a problem. It's disappointing to be 13th, but at least we know how to fix the problem and that's what we'll do tomorrow.Yukio - 15th, 2:00.398

The morning was not so bad and although we didn't change much on the bike (just the ride height) the bike didn't work so well in the afternoon. I don't think the change in track temperature was a problem, but whatever the reason, I had much less rear grip in the afternoon. So we will look at the telemetry, analyse the data and see what we must do to make the bike better tomorrow morning. My general feeling is that we will improve quite a bit, but tomorrow we'll know for sure.The following is from Ducati...the Ducati Xerox Team faced hot and humid conditions today at the International Circuit of Losail with track temperatures in the high thirties during the afternoon's first qualifying session.This meant that Ducati Xerox man Noriyuki Haga, riding high on the back of his win at Phillip Island two weeks ago, and team-mate Michel Fabrizio both experienced a lack of grip, especially at the rear, which has meant that they have been working with their teams to find the best compromise regarding the set-up. Before the end of today Michel had registered the eighth fastest time and Noriyuki the eleventh fastest lap.With the exception of two very fast times registered this afternoon by Yamaha rider Ben Spies and Honda's Jonathan Rea, lap times were extremely close with seventeen riders lapping within a second of each other. Temperatures are set to rise even higher during the next two days, making for exciting racing on Saturday.Michel Fabrizio 2m00.1s

"It feels like we lost his morning's session as we completed very few laps so have had to make up for that this afternoon during qualifying, and haven't had time to make the progress we hoped for. If we had gone straight out this morning without problems we would surely have done better than we did this afternoon. I have had some problems with grip and we need to see which tyres can last race distance but all in all, I'm reasonably confident for now and we know what we need to try tomorrow in second qualifying."Noriyuki Haga 2m00.2s

"Today was a strange day for me. We tried a different rear suspension setting to that used in Australia but the grip did not improve as we expected it to. Anyway the feeling I have with the 1198 is good and tomorrow we really just need to resolve the fact that I'm lacking rear grip. I will speak with my technicians again to decide how we will proceed tomorrow, we need to find a new way forward. There were some fast times recorded today so I need to pick up my pace tomorrow."The following is from Yamaha...The Yamaha World Superbike Team riders answered any questions raised about their ability to learn new tracks quickly on their first day of qualifying at the Qatar circuit. Three-time AMA champion Ben Spies finished the day fastest of all Superbike riders, with an impressive time of 1"58.886. Spies' team-mate, Young British star Tom Sykes also found his way around the dusty, sand-swept track quickly, spending most of the session lapping in the top three. His decision to hold back on fresh tires at the end of the session dropped him to 12th on the grid with a time of 2"00.283.Both Spies and Sykes are new to the Qatar circuit in Losail, but have proved with their first day's qualifying, and supported by their results at Phillip Island that they are not daunted by the challenge of new circuits and can be quick straight out of the box. The all-new 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 is also proving to be an extremely competitive bike, taking the young riders to the front of the pack at the beginning of the season.In contrast to other race rounds, the qualifying will take place tomorrow and the races on Saturday, the WSB lights going off at 10.00 and 13.30 CET and the WSS race at 11.25 CET.Ben Spies, Yamaha World Superbike Team

"The track has been great for my first day here and the team have been working great as always, we're continuing to make the bike better and better, hopefully we can get even faster for the race! We can't forget there are many fast guys out here and I'm sure they're doing their homework too." Tom Sykes, Yamaha World Superbike Team

"I took it a little bit steady today, we've been working hard and trying race tires in preparation for Saturday. All in all were reasonably happy and it's left us a lot of tires to play with. Straight away I was in the top three in the session, I know I can run fairly consistently with the top guys, so tomorrow we're going to make some small changes to the bike and improve the set up. Australia didn't really happen in qualifying for me which made it harder in the race so I'm looking for a better grid position for Saturday."Massimo Meregalli, Yamaha World Superbike Team Manager"The first practice and qualifying session went very well for the team today. Both Ben and Tom were very fast and I was pleased with how quickly they learnt the circuit. Tom decided to only use one set of tires this afternoon and was in the top five until fifteen minutes to the end when most of the riders changed tires. Ben was again very quick, adapting well to the new circuit and putting in an impressive qualifying time. We have more work to do tomorrow, but are pleased with the day."

World Superbike Headlines

By Cycle News Staff

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