WSBK: Final Superpole of the Season Posts Fast Qualifying Sessions at Portimao

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Jonathan Rea (1:41.712) took the final pole of the 2011 World Superbike season at Portimao, beating off championship winner Carlos Checa with a lap set early in the final Superpole session. Rea and Checa had traded session fast times on Friday, with the younger rider coming out on top and leading a starting front row also including current Yamaha teammates Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri. Superpole was relatively uneventful, with leading fast laps coming early in the three sessions and only riders pulling themselves out of the knockout zone in the final seconds after the flag. Sylvain Guintoli, Jakub Smrz, Joan Lascorz, and Noriyuki Haga complete the second row for tomorrow’s two races.

There was plenty of news before the racing began on Friday, with word that Biaggi would return for the season finale, as would Josh Waters and Yoshimura Suzuki. Meanwhile, Roberto Rolfo had to be replaced at Pedercini Kawasaki by Santiago Barragan, as the Italian rider had broken his left kneecap earlier in the week in a bicycle accident near his home. Chris Vermeulen was again out, missing the final race weekend of a season that saw him compete in only seven races. On Friday morning, recent pole winner and recipient of bad luck, Rea (1:43.945) led the timesheets over Checa, Badovini, Sykes, and Guintoli as the fastest five. Meanwhile, Leon Camier tweeted, “just had front row seat to max an Marco having another punch up but on the slow down lap after first sess! Shoving each other all sorts.”Checa (1:43.579) was not one to relinquish control after winning the championship, taking provisional pole in the afternoon qualifying session under sunny Portuguese skies. Laverty, Guintoli, and Rea were also on the provisional front starting row.

Rea again led in the final qualifying practice, going a tenth faster than Checa. Both were in something of a league of their own, a half second faster than Melandri and Haslam, who completed the provisional front row. Also very quick was fifth fastest Giugliano, taking a positions as Checa’s teammate at Althea Ducati for the second weekend this season after winning the Superstock 1000 championship. Despite multiple race weekends off and promising times on Friday, Biaggi was not healed enough to qualifying out of the final practice. In the final practice, Melandri posted the fastest lap, leading Laverty, Rea, Checa, and Camier as the fastest five. Knocked Out in Qualifying Practice: 17. Max Biaggi, 18. Troy Corser, 19. Karl Muggerridge, 20. Javier Fores, 21. Josh Waters, 22. Santiago Barragan.

Superpole 1:
The first, fourteen minute, session of Superpole got underway with a stiff breeze and sunny skies at the Portimao circuit. Soon, all but Camier had made their way out to begin setting times. Rea was the firs to set a time, with Lascroz, Berger, and Haga following. With ten minutes remaining and the first fast laps complete, Rea (1:42.708) led Lascorz, Haslam, Badovini, Berger, Haga, and Aitchison. No one else had yet set a time. Quickly, Melandri, Checa, and Laverty outpaced Rea, with the Italian leading a minute later. At that point, Fabrizio, Smrz, Aitchison, and Haga were in the knockout zone with eight minutes to go. The top and bottom order remained the same two minutes later, though Guintoli continued to post quick first sectors.

Most of the riders were back in their garages for final changes when five minutes remained. Melandri still led Checa, Laverty, and Rea as the provisional front row, while Fabrizio, Smrz, Aitchison, and Haga were in the drop zone. The top five remained safely in the garage as the middle group of Sykes, Badovini, Camier, and Berger looked to move up to safer positions. Smrz moved up to fifth with three to go, dropping Berger. Haga was the next to leap up, going eighth fastest and pushing Camier out with two to go. Aitchison, however, looked to be stuck in the knockout zone as he crashed in the final minutes of the session. As the final seconds ticked away, Melandri (1:42.583) remained the fastest, with Checa, Laverty, and Rea the provisional front row. Camier barely hauled himself on to S2, moving up to eighth with a final fast lap, joining fifth fastest Smrz, Haslam, Lascorz, ninth fastest Guintoli, Haga, Sykes, and Badovini as those moving forward. Knocked Out in Superpole 1: 13. Maxime Berger, 14. Michel Fabrizio, 15. Davide Giugliano, 16. Mark Aitchison.

Superpole 2:
Haslam was the first out for the twelve minutes of S2, leading Guintoli, Smrz, Lascorz, Badovini, and Haga before the rest of the field followed. Camier, again, was the last to join. Smrz took the early lead with just under eight minutes remaining, only to lose his fast lap to Rea. Haga followed the Czech rider, with Melandri, and Badovini the early front row. It would not last, as Laverty and Checa both posted faster times, with the former leading and seven minutes remaining. Haga, Melandri, and Badovini were quick enough to move forward, at that point.

With five to go, Laverty still led Checa, and Rea, but Smrz had moved up to fourth fastest. Sykes, Lascorz, Haslam, and the slow Camier were in the knockout zone as most of the top seven pitted. A minute later, all riders but Sykes and Camier were into their garages for new tires and final adjustments. Guintoli, Lascorz, and Haslam (on the bubble and in the danger zone) headed back out when two minutes remained, but the top seven stayed steadfastly in their garages. They were on quick laps as the flag ended the session, with Lascroz moving up to sixth and Guintoli third. Laverty remained quickest (1:42.097), leading Checa, Guintoli, Rea, Smrz, Haga, Lascorz, and Melandri  into S3. Knocked Out in Superpole 2: 9. Ayrton Badovini, 10. Tom Sykes, 11. Leon Haslam, 12. Leon Camier.

Superpole 3:
Checa was the last to go out for the final Superpole session of the 2011 season, though all the riders were circulating just under two minutes into S3. Rea had led them out, and set the first time (1:41.712) with six minutes remaining. Checa was two tenths slower on his own fast lap, with Laverty, Melandri, Guintoli, Lascorz, Haga, and Smrz following, halfway through the ten minute session. Rea then returned to the garage. Checa was unable to better his own time on his next lap, remaining out with just under three minutes left. Meanwhile, Smrz had moved up to sixth from eighth. Rea returned to the track, as did Checa, for the final minute of the session. Laverty, Melandri, and the rest of the group, barring Haga, stayed in the garages. Neither Rea nor Checa improved on their laps, both going rather slowly, and Rea took the final pole of the 2011 season from newly-minted championship winner Checa.

Superpole Results from World Superbike at Portimao, Portugal:

Pos. No. Rider Team Time Diff.
1. 4 Jonathan Rea Castrol Honda 1:41.712
2. 7 Carlos Checa Althea Racing Ducati 1:41.951 0.239
3. 58 Eugene Laverty Yamaha WSBK Team 1:42.173 0.461
4. 33 Marco Melandri Yamaha WSBK Team 1:42.259 0.547
5. 50 Sylvain Guintoli Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 1:42.627 0.915
6. 96 Jakub Smrz Team Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 1:42.710 0.998
7. 17 Joan Lascorz Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 1:43.282 1.570
8. 41 Noriyuki Haga PATA Racing Team Aprilia 1:43.307 1.595
Out After Superpole 2
9. 86 Ayrton Badovini BMW Motorrad Italia 1:42.645 0.548
10. 66 Tom Sykes Paul Bird Racing Kawasaki 1:42.740 0.643
11. 91 Leon Haslam BMW Motorrad 1:42.879 0.782
12. 2 Leon Camier Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team 1:43.012 0.915
Out After Superpole 1
13. 121 Maxime Berger Supersonic Racing Ducati 1:43.306 0.723
14. 84 Michel Fabrizio Team Suzuki Alstare 1:43.661 1.078
15. 34 Davide Giugliano Althea Racing Ducati 1:43.683 1.100
16. 8 Mark Aitchison Team Pedericini Kawaski 1:44.078 1.495
Not qualified for Superpole
17. 1 Max Biaggi Aprilia Alitalia Racing Team 1:43.907 1.338
18. 11 Troy Corser BMW Motorrad 1:44.131 1.562
19. 31 Karl Muggerridge Castrol Honda 1:45.268 2.699
20. 112 Javier Fores BMW Motorrad Italia 1:45.274 2.705
21. 12 Josh Waters Yoshimura Suzuki 1:45.311 2.742
22. 51 Santiago Barragan Team Pedericini Kawaski 1:45.495 2.926

Source: WSBK; Photo: Castrol Honda