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World Superbike Championship title contender Eugene Laverty has sprung to the top of the timesheets following first qualifying at Laguna Seca, the Aprilia rider just doing enough to fend off the impressive Niccolo Canepa.

A substantially faster session than FP1, eight riders would dip below Troy Bayliss' lap record from 2004, with Laverty's fastest time of 1min 24.482secs coming at just over the mid-way point.

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It was a time that would stand firm until the chequered flag, though he was very nearly usurped by a late improvement from Canepa, the regular Superstock 1000 rider back on Superbike machinery this weekend as substitute for the injured Carlos Checa at Alstare Ducati.

Falling just 0.013secs shy of the top time, Canepa's performance was enough to put himself amidst the title contenders, with Tom Sykes in third position and Marco Melandri coming in fourth.

Toni Elias and Davide Giugliano rounded out the top six on their privateer Aprilias, with the fourth and final realistic title rival Sylvain Guintoli setting the seventh best time.

Having impressed in FP1, wild-cards Danny Eslick and Roger Lee Hayden were still in the mix during Q1 aboard their Michael Jordan Motorsport Suzukis in eighth and ninth, while FP1 pace setter Chaz Davies could only manage tenth best this time.

With a revised timetable putting Q2 at the end of the day's schedule, the fight to make it into Superpole will be decided later with Jules Cluze, Ayrton Badovini, Michel Fabrizio, Leon Haslam and Loris Baz-replacement David Salom currently in the safe zone.

As it stands, four tenths splits Salom in 15th from Federico Sandi in 16th, while Mark Aitchison and Glenn Allerton remain in relatively close company too.