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Tom Sykes will start the final round of the 2012 World Superbike Championship at Magny-Cours from an outstanding ninth pole position of the season after destroying the existing lap record and out-performing title rival Max Biaggi.
A fitting result in a year that has seen Sykes and Kawasaki utterly dominate Superpole, the Briton not only broke the existing lap record of 1min 37.490secs, but did so with the first-ever Superbike lap to break into the 1min 36secs bracket.
Critically, it means Sykes is well placed to claw back some precious points on arch rival Biaggi, who couldn't translate his practice pace into anything more than tenth on the grid.
Though Biaggi's 30.5 point advantage over Sykes with two races remaining still gives him the upper hand, even from the third row of the grid, it is potentially indicative of the pressure he faces to complete an expected championship win. If Sykes wins both races at Magny-Cours, Biaggi needs just two top six finishes to be crowned champion.
Behind Sykes, Carlos Checa
will start his final race as reigning champion from second place, the Althea Ducati rider also going beneath the previous lap record but still falling half a second short of the flying Kawasaki man.
Securing his fifth front row start in seven races, Eugene Laverty might have fancied his chances of challenging Sykes had he been able to sustain his strong pace through sector one, the Aprilia rider settling for third position in the end.
Having led the way in Q2 and FP2, Marco Melandri had no answer to Sykes in Superpole but will still start from the front row in fourth place, the BMW rider just edging out local favourite Sylvain Guintoli on the PATA Ducati.
Jonathan Rea maintained his impressive Superpole form to qualify in sixth place, just ahead of countrymen Leon Haslam on the BMW and Chaz Davies on the ParkinGO MTC Aprilia, the latter doing an outstanding job to reach SP3 having completed considerably less mileage than his rivals this weekend. Indeed, the Welshman – who will switch to BMW after this round - missed FP1 entirely because of technical issues and skipped much of Q2 when he crashed in the opening minutes, but was still able to bounce back and secure a second row start.
Fresh from the announcement that he will remain a Suzuki rider in 2013, Leon Camier qualified in ninth position, ahead of former team-mate Biaggi, while Michel Fabrizio
and Claudio Corti make up the remainder of the second row, the latter continuing to star on his WSBK debut aboard the unfancied Pedercini Kawasaki
Dropping out of contention in SP1, the fourth row will be made up of Loris Baz, Maxime Berger, Davide Giugliano and Lorenzo Zanetti.