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The reigning champion may be absent, but the 2017 Superprestigio event is up and running with local star Ferran Cardus and former Moto2 world champion Toni Elias topping qualifying in their respective classes.

The end of season dirt track exhibition has become a regular on the motorsports calendar since the inaugral event in 2014. Set in the atmospheric Palau Sant Jordi stadium in the Montjuic hills that overlook Barcelona, the fifth running of the Superprestigio has had to contend with the absence of two-time winner and reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, in need of a breather after racking up 27 crashes across his recent, triumphant campaign.

In the past, the event has pitted the best from the road racing paddocks against those specialising in off-road events, with American dirt track well represented throughout.

Past winner and dirt track star Brad Baker is also absent through injury, but both the ‘Superprestigio’ class, which pits the road racing talent together, and the ‘Open’ category, which sees the off-road talent come up against one another, are crammed with talent. In total eight world champions, including MotoGP sensation Johann Zarco, will contest the Superprestigio event on Saturday evening, which gets underway at 17:00 GMT.

A small, tight oval course, within the Palau Sant Jordi, times are normally tight. Qualifying for this year’s event was no different, with the leading five names in the ‘Open’ Category lapping the track within one tenth of the fastest time.

Spanish dirt track sensations Ferran Cardus and Gerard Bailo led the way, with six time Supermoto World Champion Thomas Chareyre third. Briar Bauman, an American flat track regular, and hopeful of claiming this evening’s crown was fourth, a place ahead of England’s Oliver Brindley, who has spent the year plying his trade in the United States.

England’s Tom Neave – a regular in the national Superstock 600 Championship was an impressive tenth, while JD Beach, a former Red Bull Rookie and MotoAmerica Supersport champion was spectacular while sliding his way to the eleventh quickest time.

The leading nine riders in the ‘Open’ category were quicker than Toni Elias, the leading name in qualifying for the ‘Superprestigio’ class. The former Moto2 world champion finished as runner up in last year’s end of season event and returns to Barcelona as the reigning MotoAmerica Superbike champion, after a glittering year across the Atlantic.

Impressive Moto2 runner Xavi Vierge was second in the ‘Superprestigio’ qualifying, ahead of Moto3 regular Albert Arenas. Spanish national champion Carmelo Morales was third, with Marcos Ramirez and former Le Mans 24hr winner Dani Ribalt completing the top six.

Recently crowned World Supersport champion Lucas Mahias was eighth, a place ahead of countryman Zarco, who is gradually increasing in speed with each exit.

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