Qualifying at Oulton Park illustrated precisely why the British Supersport Championship has earned a reputation for being one of the most hotly contested motorcycle racing series in the world.

Stuart Easton's pole setting time of 1m 39.836s highlighted the remarkable advances that have been made in the middleweight class for, and throughout, 2003. His best lap was almost a second and a half faster than Karl Harris' pole position time from round four of the championship that was held at the same circuit just three months ago.

The Triumph ValMoto pairing of Jim Moodie and Craig Jones also improved vastly on their previous times at the Cheshire circuit. Jones bagged a ninth place start with a best lap of 1m 41.773s, while Moodie will start from 14th after logging a 1m 42.345s.

Back in May, these times would have been enough put them third and fifth on the grid respectively - an indication of the great strides that the team is making with the Triumph ValMoto Daytona 600s.

Conditions were undeniably better than when the championship last visited Oulton Park and the hot sunshine definitely contributed to the remarkable drop in lap times. However, it does not explain the fact that 600cc four-cylinder and 748cc twin-cylinder Supersport machines and their riders were significantly faster around the 2.69-mile circuit that those in the 1000cc Superstock class. Craig Jones would have qualified fifth on that grid, despite being 400cc down on the field. His team-mate would have been tenth.

Jones' ninth place start is six places better than his last outing at Oulton Park on the Triumph ValMoto Daytona 600 and bodes well for the race. He set his fastest time in the second session and was the fifth fastest rider on track for that 25-minute period.

"I got on the back of Dean Thomas' Honda for a few laps and to be honest he was holding me up," said Jones. "I was a little bit down on straight line speed but I was killing him on the brakes and not losing out on the way out of corners. The yellow and red flags came out a few times during the second session and that interrupted my rhythm a bit and I left it a little bit late to put in the really fast laps. But things came together nicely towards the end and I knocked a second off my time.

"We've done a bit of swapping and changing and Triumph ValMoto Daytona 600 feels really good. Oulton Park is my home round and I really want to do well, so now I just have to focus on the race and ride as hard as I did last time I was here."

For the majority of qualifying Jim Moodie looked likely to match or better his team-mate's pace. Indeed, throughout the first session he was the faster of the two Triumph ValMoto riders, but events in the closing stages of the second session did not quite go his way and he slipped down the order. Ironically, his final attempt to log a fast lap was scuppered because he was too quick through the first section of the circuit.

"It was just bad luck really," he said. "We've got a useable set-up here and I'm feeling comfortable on the bike. I was winding up for a fast lap at the end second session, so I slowed down to create some space. I left about three-quarters of a second between me and the riders in front, which should have been more than enough but I caught them much quicker than I should have and got stuck behind them going into the chicane.

"It's really tricky to pass there and that messed up my last chance to improve on my time. Mind you, I've qualified better than last time we were here and the bike is definitely a lot better, so maybe I'll have some better luck in the race."



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