Red Devils Roma Aprilia's Michel Fabrizio was fast in this morning's free practice session and he was fastest again in this afternoon's first timed session as the World Superbike Championship got rolling at a sunny Phillip Island in Australia today.
Fabrizio, a four-time World Superbike winner who's last victory came in South Africa in 2010, set the tone this morning with his lap of 1:31.218 that put him half a second up on the rest of the field. This afternoon the Italian didn't go quicker, but his 1:31.317 was fast enough to put him atop the field and earn him provisional pole position for the series opener.
"We are working very well," Fabrizio said. "I'm not fully satisfied yet because we still need to find the perfect set up for the race distance. Hopefully, we'll get it sorted tomorrow, and we'll be ready for Sunday. Conditions were a bit more difficult during the afternoon compared to the morning, due primarily to the wind that made changing direction harder. Last Monday I was hit by a seagull on my arm while I was on the straight and I am still feeling the pain. I can say though, that we're on the right direction. We're planning on doing some small adjustments for tomorrow and these will hopefully make us improve further."
Fabrizio's half-second cushion was erased this afternoon with factory Aprilia's Eugene Laverty coming up just .075 short of the Italian, with Laverty having taken over at the top of the time sheets with just over 16 minutes to go in the 45-minute session.
"This morning we weren't extremely fast, but in the afternoon we made some changes on my RSV4 to adapt it to the conditions and we took a big step forward," Laverty said. "My single lap is good, but the key is to maintain consistency for the entire race. There are a lot of riders who don't stand out in the single lap but they've got an excellent race pace, and we're also doing well in that department. I don't have any particular problems and even when I'm lapping fast I'm careful not to wear the tires quickly so that helps me to be consistent."
Things were tight throughout the field as the top 13 riders were on the same second as Fabrizio.
Third fastest today was BMW's Marco Melandri, the Italian soldiering on despite an injured shoulder. Melandri's best was a 1:31.539 as he led the early part of the session.
Fixi Crescent Suzuki's Leon Camier was the surprise of testing at Phillip Island last week and he continued his form with the fourth best time, just .030 of a second ahead of new BMW man Chaz Davies, the Scotsman ending up fifth and leading the second row provisionally.
Leon Haslam was second for most of the session as he tried to match his effort from the free practice session, but he slipped down to sixth late in what is his debut with the Pata Honda team. Seventh fastest today was Kawasaki's Tom Sykes, the man who owned Superpole last year.
Althea Racing Aprilia's Davide Giugliano, Laverty's Aprilia teammate Sylvain Guintoli and Pata Honda's Jonathan Rea rounded out the top 10 on the opening day of action.
Five different manufacturers were in the top 10 today, but Ducati wasn't one of the five. Alstare Ducati's Carlos Checa ended this week's final pre-season test as the fastest rider at Phillip Island, but today the Spaniard could muster no better than the 12th best time. The former World Champion crashed in the morning session and banged his head and he was nowhere near full speed for the qualifying session, sitting out the second half of the session after feeling dizzy.
Still, he ended up as the top Panigale rider with privateer Max Neukirchner on the MR-Racing Ducati right behind him in 13th - and the last rider on the same second as Fabrizio. Checa's new teammate Ayrton Badovini also crashed in the morning session, must a few days after his big crash during testing. He was also not at full speed for the session and ended up 16th.
Final qualifying and Superpole will be held tomorrow.
1. Michel Fabrizio (Aprilia) 1:31.317
2. Eugene Laverty (Aprilia) 1:31.392
3. Marco Melandri (BMW) 1:31.539
4. Leon Camier (Suzuki) 1:31.608
5. Chaz Davies (BMW) 1:31.638
6. Leon Haslam (Honda) 1:31.687
7. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 1:31.754
8. Davide Giugliano (Aprilia) 1:31.793
9. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia) 1:31.863
10. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:31.884