Max Biaggi has put the new Aprilia RSV4 on provisional pole for round three of the 2009 World Superbike Championship, at Valencia.
During a hectic opening day, when many riders struggled to set fast lap times in both sessions, Biaggi claimed a solid third place in free practice - then lowered his best lap time by one-second during the afternoon qualifying hour, allowing the Italian to edge out Ben Spies by 0.132sec.
Superstar rookie Spies, winner of three of the first four races, had been just 17th fastest in free practice, but made quick progress up the order during qualifying. The American steered his factory-backed Yamaha around the Spanish circuit a massive 1.783sec than he'd managed in free practice, squeezing out Ducati's championship leader Noriyuki Haga by just 0.001sec as a result. Haga was ninth fastest in free practice.
Factory Ducati team-mate Michel Fabrizio made a promising start to the European season with a provisional fourth on the grid, as the Italian seeks to erase a disastrous Qatar round, while Spies' team-mate Tom Sykes also started well with fifth position - within half a second of Biaggi - despite a fall.
Jakub Smrz was a consistent sixth in both sessions for Guandalini Ducati, with Max Neukirchner likewise claiming seventh in both practice and qualifying to be the leading Suzuki rider.
Neukirchner's Alstare team-mate Yukio Kagayama began the day with an excellent second to Carlos Checa in free practice. The Japanese dropped to eighth in qualifying, while Checa, who collided with leader Neukirchner at the final turn of race one last season, plummeted down to 15th on the notoriously temperature-sensitive circuit.
After Checa's strong start, it was left to rookie Hannspree Ten Kate team-mate Jonathan Rea to be the top Honda rider in qualifying, the Briton sitting ninth, with team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari rounding out a top ten covered by 0.597sec!.
Biaggi's Aprilia team-mate Shinya Nakano qualified eleventh.
Troy Corser was the leading BMW rider, setting the 13th fastest lap time in both sessions, while former MotoGP rider John Hopkins finished his first day of WSBK competition in 18th place, 1.093sec from Biaggi. The new Stiggy Honda rider had been 16th fastest in free practice, 0.973sec from Checa.
WSBK second qualifying will take place on Saturday morning, followed by a free practice session and Superpole in the afternoon.