Photography by Gold & Goose
While Italian fans surely must have been distracted watching Dutch TT results via smartphone, there was more than enough drama in World Superbike Superpole at Imola, where a bizarre incident in SP3 meant that Tom Sykes had to perform almost a super-human feat to earn his sixth pole of the season while setting a new lap record on racing tires. Ironically it was his teammate Loris Baz who set up what might have been the most memorable Superpole session in World Superbike history.
The scintillating SP3 session was set up when Baz crashed spectacularly with a little over five minutes to go in the final session. Baz crashed through several layers of haybales, but was able to walk away. His Kawasaki catapulted into the air, over a crash barrier and back onto the track, bringing out a red flag.
Almost simultaneously Sykes clocked a time good enough for the pole, but officials decided it came after the red flag was displayed, so the lap was thrown out meaning Jonathan Rea’s time of 1:46.556 was temporarily the pole and it didn’t seem realistic anyone could better that time on used tires when the session resumed.
After the crash was cleaned up there was less than five minutes to go in the session and many riders had to go out on a used qualifying tire or a race tire. Sykes elected to run a race-compound, even if it meant his chances of winning the pole with that harder compound was almost nil.
But Sykes was not to be denied. On his final lap of the session Sykes ripped around the famous Imola circuit on his factory Kawasaki ZX-10RR and amazingly turned in a time of 1:45.981, not only securing the pole, but also setting a new World Superbike lap record - all this on a racing tire.
It marked one of the all-time great qualifying performances in the series. When asked if it was a used qualifier or race tire he set the mark on Sykes quipped, “Judging by the seam of my pants that was definitely a race tire.”
Sykes said the decision to go with a race compound versus a used qualifier came from Sykes’ chief mechanic Marcel Duinker.
“It was a good call by Marcel,” said Sykes, who earned his 17th-career Superpole. “I was really pushing him to use the used qualifier from the session before, but he made a good call. We’ve worked together before, me and Marcel and Danilo [Casonatowe, engine engineer] made a couple of changes to accommodate the race tire. Yeah, it was very sideways and the engine was working well. I was very surprised with the lap time. I wanted to push and put on a great show for the fans. Jonathan has kept us honest this weekend and I expect two good races tomorrow.”
Second fastest qualifier Rea looked stunned to at the result, having had pole snatched from him at the last second.
“I don’t think I had too much left for Mr. Superpole,” Rea said. “That lap time was incredible. With the qualifying tire I couldn’t match that. I’m really happy with our race set up. I think we’ve got a good race package to ride 21 laps tomorrow. It’s never easy, but I’m more in control than normal. I just hope we can put gremlins aside. I’m enjoying this.”
Carlos Checa, the king of World Superbike at Imola, was out of the running early by crashing his Ducati in SP1. World Superbike rules dictate that a rider can use only one motorcycle and Checa’s crew didn’t have time to make repairs and he was out of the running for Superpole. Max Neukirchner also crashed in the session, and World Superbike great Nori Haga, returning for a special one-off race, didn’t make it out of SP1.
Ayrton Badovini gave the Ducatista on hand something to cheer about when he came second in SP2. He was end up eighth, fastest Ducati on the grid.
Aprilia satellite rider Davide Giugliano was third fastest in Superpole, giving Italy its top-placing qualifier.
Imola - FIM Superbike World Championship - Superpole 3
1. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) Kawasaki ZX-10R 1'45.981
2. Jonathan Rea (Pata Honda World Superbike) Honda CBR1000RR 1'46.556
3. Davide Giugliano (Althea Racing) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 1'46.713
4. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia Racing Team) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 1'46.857
5. Eugene Laverty (Aprilia Racing Team) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 1'46.931
6. Leon Camier (Fixi Crescent Suzuki) Suzuki GSX-R1000 1'47.165
7. Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK) BMW S1000 RR 1'47.221
8. Ayrton Badovini (Team Ducati Alstare) Ducati 1199 Panigale R 1'47.396
9. Loris Baz (Kawasaki Racing Team) Kawasaki ZX-10R 1'47.597
10. Chaz Davies (BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK) BMW S1000 RR 1'47.736
11. Leon Haslam (Pata Honda World Superbike) Honda CBR1000RR 1'48.096
12. Michel Fabrizio (Red Devils Roma) Aprilia RSV4 Factory 1'47.818
13. Carlos Checa (Team Ducati Alstare) Ducati 1199 Panigale R 1'48.446
14. Jules Cluzel (Fixi Crescent Suzuki) Suzuki GSX-R1000 1'48.636
15. Max Neukirchner (MR-Racing) Ducati 1199 Panigale R 1'48.927
16. Federico Sandi (Team Pedercini) Kawasaki ZX-10R 1'49.987
17. Vittorio Iannuzzo (Grillini Dentalmatic SBK) BMW S1000 RR 1'50.787
18. Noriyuki Haga (Grillini Dentalmatic SBK) BMW S1000 RR 1'51.680
19. Alexander Lundh (Team Pedercini) Kawasaki ZX-10R 1'52.232