He may have secured a record-equalling sixth straight WSBK pole position, but Ben Spies remains sceptical about his chances of making major inroads into Ducati rival Noriyuki Haga's dominant points lead at Kyalami.
Qualifying in South Africa will go down as a red-letter day for Spies and his Yamaha team as, in one of the most spectacular Superpole sessions yet, the American nipped Haga's Ducati team-mate Michel Fabrizio to take pole position by a mere thousandth of a second. Literally seconds after the Italian appeared to have stolen top spot - and potentially ended Spies' dreams of equalling Doug Polen's six-pole streak from 1991 - the Yamaha crossed the line in 1min 37.288secs to establish a new track record for the mildly-modified Kyalami layout.
The success came after Fabrizio appeared to be the class of the field, Monza having seemingly buoyed the Italian and propelled him to fastest times throughout practice and pre-Superpole qualifying. However, after a quiet Friday, where he was third in provisional qualifying and further back in ensuing practice, Spies seemed in no mood to play it coy during the grid-deciding session.
“We made some changes to the bike after yesterday to make it work better,” the Texan said of his improvement, “I just tried to put in some solid laps in Superpole, but really never got a really clean lap in the first two sessions."
Despite not having what he considered to be a well-constructed lap, Spies still went out and laid down the top times in both the first and second Superpole phases. In session one, he topped the charts by just 5/100ths of a second from Jonathan Rea, before making it in to phase three by turning a 1min 37.423secs effort to go two-tenths faster than a surging Fabrizio.
A riveting final Superpole session began with Spies setting an early best of 1min 37.366secs, although the American admitted that he expected to see that mark toppled before too long.
“Even though that was the top time at that point, I knew it wasn't a great lap,” Spies admitted, “I'd turned a 37.4 on race tyres, so I knew we could shave off a little more - and figured I'd probably need to.”
As the clock wound down, Spies' time looked like it might actually be good enough to hold onto top spot, but Fabrizio responded with a stunning 1min 37.289secs effort on his final lap. Spies, however, was on track at the same time and returned the favour by improving his final lap to 1min 37.288secs to earn a sixth pole in six events by the slimmest margin possible, and set up a potential record attempt on home soil at Miller Motorsport Park in Utah in two weeks' time.
In spite of his Kyalami pole, however, the American thinks there is still plenty of work to do before he can be confident of converting Saturday success into victory on Sunday.
“We're still struggling some with race set-up,” he explained, “Hopefully, we'll chip away and get things worked out in practice tomorrow morning but, regardless, I know it's going to be a tough race. I think we'll be right there near the front though, and I'm looking forward to the challenge.”