World Superbike fans got a taste of what to expect when the qualifying format is changed for 2009 after a thrilling session saw Troy Bayliss claim pole position at Brands Hatch.

With the prospect of wet weather prompting officials to revert to the 50-minute free session, it was almost a sneak preview to the new knockout system the series will adopt from 2009 onwards (see separate story).

Indeed, it very nearly looked as though Gregorio Lavilla could be on pole position for the two races after the heavens opened just as the riders crossed the timing beam to start their first flying lap. However, while most chose to abort their laps as the circuit quickly became slippery, Lavilla continued on to cross the line with the initial best lap, ahead of Ruben Xaus, Max Biaggi and Michel Fabrizio, the other riders to take their chance on the weather getting worse.

The conditions did improve though, even if it wasn't until the 30th minute that Smrz became the first rider to attempt the circuit on slick tyres again. Although damp patches around the covered part of the track ensured conditions weren't ideal, Smrz was still setting a fine pace.

As Smrz quickly began lowering his times with every revolution, more riders piled onto the circuit to make the most of the ever improving conditions.

Still, despite being the 'trial rider' Smrz remained the rider to beat for almost 25 minutes, the Czech rider returning to the top spot almost every time he completed a lap. Hitting the front with only five minutes remaining, it briefly looked as though he could be on for a very surprise pole position.

However, having completed his allocated 12 laps earlier than his rivals, Smrz was soon deposed by Bayliss with three minutes remaining. Nonetheless, that lap wouldn't be the winner after Noriyuki Haga laid down the gauntlet with only 45 seconds remaining when he surged to the top of the timesheets.

His joy was shortlived though as Bayliss, just 25 seconds later, popped back ahead of him. Even then he wasn't completely home and dry as Kiyonari was posting best sector times just behind. However, despite heading into the third sector - which includes just two corners - with the advantage, Kiyonari somehow managed to lose three tenths, leaving him third.

It meant Bayliss was able to celebrate a fifth pole position of the season around one of his favourite circuits. It just remains to be seen whether he and Haga can replicate one of their famous battles come race day...

Smrz settled for fourth to take his first front row starting slot of the season, while Troy Corser had a quiet qualifying session for once as he tops the second row in fifth.

British fans had plenty to celebrate too after Tom Sykes secured a superb sixth on the grid, the Rizla Suzuki rider going fastest briefly before dropping back again. It means he starts ahead of Max Biaggi, as well as the three Alstare Suzuki riders, with Max Neukirchner eighth, ahead of Kagayama and Fonsi Nieto.

Carlos Checa's initiation of the Brands Hatch circuit got tougher with the changing weather conditions, but 11th does signal his best position of the weekend so far, although Michel Fabrizio couldn't make the most of seeing Superpole washed out as he wound up 12th.

Lavilla's early glory could only help him to 13th, with Lorenzo Lanzi, Ruben Xaus - who crashed with three minutes remaining - and Karl Muggeridge rounding out the positions.