Ben Spies has taken pole position on his World Superbike debut after smashing the lap record around the Phillip Island circuit.

The big headline following a Superpole session that was rife with notable stories up and down the grid, Spies showed exactly why he is being touted for the title in his maiden season by setting a stunning pace when it mattered.

Having maintained a fairly low profile for much of the day as he chose to keep his running to a minimum, the American only just made it into the shootout after posting the seventh quickest time in Q2.

Nonetheless, once there, the Yamaha R1 was straight on the pace as Spies became very nearly the first rider ever to breach the 1min 31secs marker around the Australian track.

Even so, his lap of 1min 31.069 slices four tenths off Troy Bayliss' existing marker, while a similar margin separates the Yamaha rider from his closest competition.

That competition came, somewhat surprisingly, from Max Biaggi who marked a superb return to WSBK competition for Aprilia by claiming second position on the grid. Although his cause was aided by Jonathan Rea's decision not to attempt a final fast lap, Biaggi was always in contention for a front row position throughout qualifying and was richly rewarded for his efforts.

Rea, meanwhile, looked to be heading for pole position having set the pace during Q1 and much of Q2, despite limiting his track time to just a couple of laps on each occasion. However, his Q3 lap of 1min 31.596secs was no match for Spies, Rea subsequently choosing to save himself by settling for what remains an impressive first full-time outing for the Supersport graduate.

Completing a front row of four different manufacturers, Guandalini's Jakub Smrz maintained his fine pace from provisional qualifying to fly the Ducati flag, as well as front a strong privateer presence throughout the new Superpole format.

A success in terms of spectacle, not least in the way it played havoc with team tactics, the new knockout system helped provide a number of big upsets, most notably Noriyuki Haga's failure to reach the top eight shootout.

In fact, the Japanese rider wasn't even close, his best proving only good enough for an eventual 13th on the grid.

Instead, his team-mate Michel Fabrizio spared Xerox's blushes by qualifying a solid fifth, although the team will be bemused to see Haga comprehensively out paced by both Smrz and Regis Laconi.

Laconi had provided one of the day's star turns, the DFX rider taking the opportunity to fit qualification rubber at the end of Q2 to claim a new lap record, albeit until Spies went quicker in Q3 soon afterwards. Still, had Laconi managed reach the shootout without fitting new tyres, his best lap would have been good enough for second. Instead, he will start in eighth.

He will be joined on the second row by Leon Haslam, who did a fine job on the Stiggy Honda in sixth, while seventh place Carlos Checa is also worthy of a mention as he continues to overcome a painful shoulder injury.

As well as Haga, casualties from Q2 included both the Suzukis of Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama. Kagayama paid the price for gambling to stay in the pit lane when riders behind him on the timesheets attempted one more stint, an error that leaves him 11th, while Neukirchner was barely in contention down in 14th.

Brits Tom Sykes and Shane Byrne also find themselves mired in the mid-field in 12th and 15th respectively, although both will take some heart from missing out on the top eight shootout by just over a tenth.

Before that, BMW's hopes of repeating their earlier top five form were dashed when Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus became the first high profile casualties of the new Superpole system. They will start 17th and 19th.

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