Tom Sykes has taken a surprise pole position for the penultimate round of the 2010 World Superbike Championship after mastering tricky weather conditions at Imola.

In a session dictated by persistent rain and a greasy track surface, Sykes favoured a more daring approach when it mattered, the Briton's first effort of 2mins 07.341secs proving enough to hold his closest rivals at bay.

A difficult session for all concerned, although the Imola circuit was never sodden, the slippery surface would ensure that lap times were still around 15secs slower than they had been in free practice just an hour earlier.

As expected, the conditions conspired to make Superpole very unpredictable, even beyond Sykes's star turn, with a fine line being tempered between speed and failure.

Coming just as Kawasaki gets set to phase out the current ZX-10R, which by WSBK standards has not been a successful machine, the performance is likely to provide manufacturer bosses with a further headaches with regards to which riders it picks for 2011.

The final Superpole session was always likely to throw up an interesting outcome after a number of notable riders hit problems, the front row alone reflecting that with Sykes followed by Jakub Smrz, Leon Haslam and Luca Scassa.

Smrz, who recently confirmed he will return to a Ducati in 2010, was the only rider to get close to Sykes, the Czech rider missing pole by less than a tenth. Haslam was a familiar face in third, but Scassa in fourth represents a first WSBK front row for both himself and the fledgling Supersonic Ducati team.

More surprises followed on row two, with Lorenzo Lanzi putting a season of mediocrity behind him with a star turn in Superpole. The Italian, who has only made it into SP3 once this year, was responsible for dumping James Toseland out of SP1 with his final effort before going on to set the fastest time in SP2.

The DFX Ducati rider will start from fifth position, ahead of Troy Corser, championship leader Max Biaggi and Ruben Xaus, the latter shrugging off a crash in SP2 to sneak into the top eight.

Xaus wasn't the only rider to hit the deck during the session, with the usual pre-Superpole favourites of Jonathan Rea, Cal Crutchlow, Shane Byrne and Carlos Checa all falling at Tamburello.

Rea was seemingly worst affected after falling on first flying lap in SP1, the Northern Irishman returning to the pit lane to receive some quick bandaging on his left shoulder before going on to drop out of SP2 in 14th anyway.

Byrne and Checa - who had been fastest heading into Superpole - had to leave their Althea Ducati bikes at the side of the road when they came off, while Crutchlow did look on course to recover to the top eight with his last lap, only to run off the road at Rivazza. The trio start ninth, 13th and 12th respectively.

Elsewhere, 2009 Imola winners Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki Haga failed to make the cut in tenth and 15th, while Toseland had the indignity of being dumped out of SP1 when his decision to return to the pit lane early was punished by Lanzi's very final effort - he starts in 17th.

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