Photography by Gold & Goose
Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes earned the 16th pole position of his World Superbike career today at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao, Portugal, but it really couldn’t have been any closer. How about .001 of a second? That’s the difference between Sykes and Aprilia’s Eugene Laverty after the “wet” Superpole session that featured a dry racetrack.
After Fixi Crescent Suzuki’s Jules Cluzel surprised the field by turning in the fastest lap in Superpole 1, the group of the fastest 12 went out for Superpole 2. But the session was quickly red-flagged with sprinkles of rain falling on certain parts of the circuit. At that point race officials deemed the session “wet” and Superpole and final qualifying would be based on lap times from a final 20-minute session.
As he’d done 15 times before, Sykes put in his best lap – a 1:41.360 – with some seven minutes to go. Then he watched as the pole was very nearly snatched from him by Laverty, the factory Aprilia man turning in a 1:41.361 – missing out on his first-career World Superbike pole by just .001 of a second.
Laverty said he knew Sykes was fired up when he heard him singing in his motorhome prior to the session.
“I’m happy to be on the front row, but to come so close to pole position – you can’t get any closer than that,” Laverty said. “One thousandths of a second is absolutely nothing. It was a good lap. I made just one mistake at turn seven when I missed the apex. I knew Tom was feeling pretty good about himself today; I could hear him singing in the motorhome next to me before the session started so I knew it was going to be hard work. Yet again in pole position, he’s hard to stop.”
Sykes was pleased with pole number 16 (and his fifth of the 2013 season), but vowed to get more soundproofing in his motorhome.
“It was tricky conditions and to be honest I’ve been struggling in the early parts of the week,” Sykes said. “It’s been difficult work, but we made two or three changes during the course of today and just in time for Superpole. Overall, I think we timed it very well. We used a race tire in the beginning of the last one and everybody was sat while the sun was shining so I used that chance to get out on a clear track and put the gauntlet down. I so nearly got pipped by Eugene. And I’m going to have to get me motorhome soundproofed if he’s listening in – there’s all kinds that goes on in there.”
Third fastest and the final rider on the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s two races was Pata Honda’s Jonathan Rea – giving the race an all United Kingdom front row.
BMW’s Marco Melandri will head row two with Aprilia’s championship leader Sylvain Guintoli and Sykes’ Kawasaki teammate Loris Baz joining him there.
Carlos Checa – fresh from spending five hours a day in hyperbaric oxygen chamber in an effort to help heal his injured shoulder – finished the session in seventh, one spot better than Superpole 1 leader Cluzel.
Michel Fabrizio and Ayrton Badovini rounded out the top 10 qualifiers.
1. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 1:41.360
2. Eugene Laverty (Aprilia) 1:41.361
3. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:41.787
4. Marco Melandri (BMW) 1:42.115
5. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia) 1:42.209
6. Loris Baz (Kawasaki) 1:42.328
7. Carlos Checa (Ducati) 1:42.405
8. Jules Cluzel (Suzuki) 1:42.645
9. Michel Fabrizio (Aprilia) 1:43.032
10. Ayrton Badovini (Aprilia) 1:43.057