Leon Haslam got his Suzuki World Superbike career off to a perfect start by claiming a first career pole position during Superpole at Phillip Island.

Haslam was in superb form around the Melbourne circuit from start-to-finish, the Briton topping the leaderboard in all three sessions to set a best time of 1min 31.229secs during the shootout, just two tenths off the lap record.

Coming on the weekend he makes his debut with the factory Suzuki team, pole position marks his first in 31 previous Superpole attempts. It is also Suzuki's first pole position since Max Neukirchner took the top spot on home ground at the Nurburgring in 2008.

He was pushed hard though, with Michel Fabrizio getting to within 16 thousandths of denying Haslam in second position with his last gasp effort.

Similarly last minute was Cal Crutchlow's run to third position, the graduating World Supersport Champion continuing to get quicker as the weekend wears on to kick off his full-time WSBK career with a front row start.

It was an impressive turnaround for the Yamaha team as a whole, with both Crutchlow and James Toseland reaching the top eight on their Superpole shootout debuts despite struggling with set-up issues during testing and free practice. Although a lack of a qualifying tyre in Q3 prevented him from matching Crutchlow, Toseland will start his World Superbike comeback race from eighth.

There were mixed emotions for Althea Racing, who celebrated their first front row start with Carlos Checa, the Spaniard failing to hold onto his provisional pole position slot but doing enough to keep the Italian team challenging at the front. However, Shane Byrne was the surprise casualty from SP1, the Briton seemingly struggling with injuries sustained in an accident during Q1 yesterday.

Sylvain Guintoli gave Suzuki further reason to cheer with a superb run to fifth position, the Frenchman capitalising on a tow from Haslam to miss out on the front by a mere two hundredths of a second.

He will share row two with Jakub Smrz, who did a fine job with newly amalgamated Borciani/Guandalini team, Jonathan Rea, who otherwise struggled to make a significant impression, and Toseland.

With little to separate the riders during SP2, a number of high-profile named failed to make it into the shootout, most notably pre-season favourite Noriyuki Haga, who will start tenth after struggling to get into the mix.

Still, the Japanese rider - who starts as the fifth best placed Ducati behind Lorenzo Lanzi in ninth - cannot be discounted and will no doubt be harking back to the 2009 edition of the race when he claimed victory from a similarly lowly 13th position.

Fellow perceived title contender Max Biaggi was also a casualty in 11th, while Leon Camier compounded Aprilia's woes further when a fall on his final SP2 lap left him down in 16th position.

Although Chris Vermeulen hinted at a possible shootout challenge with the eighth fastest time during the opening phase of Superpole, it was his team-mate Tom Sykes who led Kawasaki's charge with a run to 12th on the grid. Vermeulen followed in 14th, the pair split by BMW's Troy Corser in 13th.

Earlier on in the session, Byrne's departure from SP1 was matched in terms of magnitude by the elimination of Ten Kate Honda's Neukirchner, a podium winner at Phillip Island a year ago with Suzuki. Still, like Haga, Neukirchner can take heart from the fact he launched a victory challenge from 14th on the grid in 2009.

Additionally, Andrew Pitt also failed to progress from SP1, while his Reitwagen BMW team-mate Roland Resch didn't make it out on track after injuring his shoulder in a Q2 crash.


Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment