19.30pm Friday

As night sets in - much earlier than most in this paddock will be used to since the clocks haven't gone forward just yet -, day one at Donington Park has gone off without any major hitches.

Biaggi, Melandri and Checa brushed off the challenge of the local contingent to lock-out the top three, with Eugene Laverty and Leon Haslam giving chase in fourth and sixth.

There is an Italian theme at the top of the Supersport timesheets too, with Luca Scassa denying Sam Lowes for provisional pole position.

Thankfully - particularly for the already injured Rea, Vermeulen and Guintoli - most stayed upright... We can't allow the World Superbike grid to get any smaller!

So as I trawl through the end-of-day press releases and examine my own interviews, it's time to crank open the Red Bull/Monster/Rockstar or - Troy Corser's personal favourite - Pussy energy drink and getting tapping.

I'll be back again bright-and-early tomorrow for some more fun and frolics 'qualification-style'

Over and (in my case) passed out!

18.00pm Friday

Conducting interviews require concentration at the best of times and for the easily distracted (me), any outside influences can be a pain. Imagine my surprise then that, when awaiting Carlos Checa in the Althea Ducati hospitality suite I commented that the pounding music was quite loud in here, they informed me it was coming from elsewhere.

Even worse, it seems other hospitality suites are competing with one another as to who can get louder - in this case the main paddock stand and Suzuki. The interview was unaffected, you'll be pleased to know, but I do have that Friday feeling now - which isn't helpful when you're in the middle of nowhere...

17.00pm Friday

We could just as easily be looking at a MotoGP timesheet as Biaggi, Melandri and Checa fill the top three after first qualifying here at Donington Park.

The trio were comfortably faster than the rest of the competition as they disputed the top spot, though things are definitely close further down the field - just a second covers fourth to 17th position.

That's significant because - as per the new regulations this year - only the top sixteen get a go in Superpole. At the moment, Fabrizio is the big name in the 'danger zone', while Rea is on the bubble himself.

After all, the weather could turn nasty tomorrow ahead of Q2 - and it could, this is the UK in March -, so Fabrizio will be in for an anxious wait. Now, how do you do an anti-rain dance...?

16.15pm Friday

There are 15mins remaining in the first Superbike qualifying session of the weekend and that man Checa is fastest again, ahead of Corser - though they have only just taken the initiative from Haslam, who has otherwise been the dominant man thus far.

Lascorz is an impressive fourth, ahead of Biaggi, while Maxime Berger seems to have been inspired by his former Superstock rival Badovini's efforts in FP1 by getting his Supersonic Ducati up to sixth position.

Down the order, Rea is an uncharacteristic 17th at the moment - provisionally out of the top 16 position he needs to get into Superpole. He is joined by Rolfo, Vermeulen and Aitchison.

No major incident to speak of so far, though the circuit does seem to be getting quicker in the late afternoon sunshine, so expect the order to change before the flag drops.

15.30pm Friday

The Supersport riders have been and gone, with Scassa snatching provisional pole position from Lowes by just over a tenth of a second.

It's a potentially crucial result as the notoriously changeable conditions at Donington Park could be problematic for those hoping to improve in tomorrow afternoon's Q2 session. Even so, if it stays as it is, we'll have all four British riders on the front two rows.

Meanwhile, three riders - Luca Marconi, Eduard Blokhin and Oleg Pozdneev - failed to make the provisional 107 per cent cut. If they stay as they are, Officials may look kindly on Marconi as he was mere hundredths off and he suffered an early session-ending fall, but as Blokhin and Pozdneev are two and three seconds from safety, it seems we may not see RivaMoto on the grid come Sunday...

13.45pm Friday

Apologies for going on about the weather (I am British, and therefore it is my default favourite topic of conversation), but it is a beautiful day here at Donington Park still as the first qualifying sessions for Supersport and Superbike await.

A quick sweep of the paddock - in a vein attempt to seek out some lunch - reveals that it is as treacherous as ever. With the combination of bikes, scooters, mopeds and quad bikes - I've even spotted a Segway! - being used to get from A-to-B, and no hint of any traffic sense, those on two feet are at a distinct disadvantage here.

A few near misses aside, I haven't been floored yet and my food endeavour was rewarded with... a cheese sandwich! Definitely worth the vehicular Russian Roulette

Anyway, I'm safely (so long as I don't lean back) in my chair, the Supersports are out on track and my tummy has stopped growling, so on with the show!

12.35pm Friday

The first World Superbike session of the weekend has come to a close with a familiar face at the top as Checa maintained his place out front.

Though Marco Melandri looked set for the accolade as the chequered flag loomed, Checa's effort of 1min 29.978secs would give him a comfortable buffer over the Italian - who said Ducati would only go well at Phillip Island...?

Melandri held second, ahead of Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam, Joan Lascorz, Michel Fabrizio and Max Biaggi - that means seven manufacturers in the top seven.

Elsewhere, Noriyuki Haga was running well until a technical issue on his PATA Aprilia forced an early conclusion to his session, while Chris Vermeulen was 19th best in his first official outing since Brno 2010.

12.00pm Friday

There isn't a hint of cloud in the sky (how often do you get to say that on a British race weekend?) as the Superbike riders head out onto track.

Half of the hour-long session has passed and Phillip Island dominator Checa has come out fighting in FP1, setting the pace by a tenth of a second from the increasingly impressive Melandri.

Jonathan Rea is the best of the home favourites in third, while Smrz retains a familiar presence towards the head of the practice timesheets in fourth. Haslam completes the provisional top five.

Further back, Chris Vermeulen is out on track and lapping fairly well in 17th position, just 1.7secs off the leaders and a second behind Kawasaki team-mate Joan Lascorz. Whether he has the strength to build on that remains to be seen, but it's certainly a promising start for the hobbled Australian.

11.20am Friday

Having praised the big jump in grid numbers at Supersport level, it is a shame the same cannot be said for the Superbike class - which is getting perilously close to MotoGP levels.

With a long list riders being one of the big factors to favour World Superbikes against MotoGP in the recurring argument of which is the better motorcycling championship, just 20 riders have been entered for Donington Park - only three more than began the Qatar Grand Prix weekend.

Of course things have been exacerbated by the withdrawal of James Toseland - and his apparent reluctance to have anyone assume his BMW Italia seat until he returns -, but a full-time grid of 21 remains well down than on recent years.

Even worse, Chris Vermeulen may not take to the starting grid on Sunday as he uses this weekend's practice sessions to evaluate his still bothersome knee. Down to 19 then...

A change in the regulations to bring costs down - and entice some satellite entries back to the scene - is being mooted and it can't come soon enough. Several team bosses are backing the plans to revert to something closer to Superstock-specification, but nothing has been firmed up yet.

To put into perspective, just two years ago, there were seven full-time Honda riders in WSBK - now there are just two -, there is just one Suzuki, while even Ducati is down to four. Thank Kawasaki and BMW for keeping numbers up at five and four apiece...

10.40am Friday

A good start for the British contingent in the World Supersport class as Sam Lowes sets a fierce pace in first free practice - six tenths up on his nearest rival.

However, six tenths is a mere respectable margin compared to the second he commanded for much of the session, the Parkalgar Honda rider clearly determined to dispel memories of Phillip Island by doing the business here.

His PI sparring partner Scassa was second, ahead of Parkes and Salom, while Ellison and Davies backed up their countryman in fifth and sixth. Rea was ninth best - a fine effort given he completed just nine laps, though he will have done his damaged thumb no good at all when he crashed late in the session.

Kennedy finished his first WSS session in 20th position.

10.25am Friday

As well as Jack Kennedy, the first European round of the season sees three other newcomers join the World Supersport ranks this weekend, with Robert Muresan riding a PTR Romania Honda, while RivaMoto become the first full-time Russian team to compete in the series with Eduard Blokhin and Oleg Pozdneev.

The trio further enhances the vast influx of interest from the former Eastern Bloc, with riders from Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Ukraine all competing in 2011.

Whether they can claw themselves up to the sharp end of the grid remains to be seen, but few will deny they are welcome additions to a grid that struggled for numbers in 2010.

10.15am Friday

Twenty-five minutes of the first World Supersport free practice session has passed and Sam Lowes is currently exerting some dominance over his rivals, almost a second up on Phillip Island winner Luca Scassa.

Kawasaki duo Broc Parkes and David Salom follow just behind Scassa, while his ParkinGO Yamaha team-mate Chaz Davies if fifth. James Ellison and Gino Rea have also crept into the top ten in eighth and tenth respectively.

Further down, wild-card Jack Kennedy is 16th, the Irishman helping to boost grid numbers up to a bumper 30 this weekend

10.00am Friday

As I've mentioned below, the British contingent is expected to go well at Donington Park this weekend. Indeed, the likes of Leon Haslam, Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Leon Camier and Eugene Laverty are feared everywhere, but none more so than on home turf.

Still, you do wonder what Biaggi was really thinking when he was quoted in the official Aprilia Alitalia press release as stating he cannot 'underestimate the thick patrol of British riders'. By 'thick' he means 'large number'. We think...

9.45am Friday

Unusually for a British-based event, there are no wild-cards competing in the World Superbike class this weekend.

Chris Walker (Pr1mo Kawasaki), Michael Rutter and Martin Jessop (Rapid Ducati) had signalled their intentions to race, but would later decide against a race outing ahead of the 2011 British Superbike Championship opener in just under a month's time.

Wild-cards are common in WSBK, but the regulars particularly fear the British unknowns on UK soil. Few will forget Shane Byrne's double victory in 2003, while Tom Sykes very nearly scored a win on the Rizla Suzuki in 2008.

Cal Crutchlow and Leon Haslam also did their reputations little harm with impressive showings on home ground, easing their passages into the WSBK ranks.

Unfortunately, there will be no wild-card interest to upset the regular order this weekend, but while Biaggi et al will be breathing a sigh of relief, they still have Haslam, Sykes, Jonathan Rea, Leon Camier and Eugene Laverty to contend with.

Of course, Silverstone will likely attract more interest from the domestic riders, with Samsung Crescent Suzuki planning to enter with John Hopkins, while HM Plant Honda and Swan Yamaha will likely fancy their chances against the best in the world.

We certainly hope so because with EVO rules tipped to be introduced across BSB next year, this could be the last opportunity (assuming WSBK doesn't follow suit) for them to square-up evenly.

9.15am Friday

The return of Donington Park to the schedules comes at a good time as 2011 signals the 80th anniversary of motorbike racing at the British circuit.

Hosting its first race in 1931, two years later Donington Park would become a permanent racing circuit - the first of its kind in the world. That race was won by the gloriously named Squib Burton, a Speedway competitor riding a Raleigh 350cc.

Donington Park has provided a few more motorcycling milestones in its long history, not least the hosting of the first-ever World Superbike race in 1988 on April 3rd - remarkably the circuit hasn't changed all that much since then...

9.00am Friday

Having been sorely missed from the calendar in 2010, World Superbikes makes a very welcome return to Donington Park this year as British fans are treated to two events on UK soil in 2011.

It's come into some criticism for its - failed - attempts at poaching the Formula 1 British Grand Prix from Silverstone, in doing so chasing away MotoGP in the other direction, but with several high-profile events in the pipeline, 2011 heralds a new Donington Park era.

Well, it's not so much a new era as forgetting the last 18 months even happened, as things seem very much 'as you were' here at the circuit.

Changes have focused on upgraded facilities and a new track surface, but the essence of the popular biking circuit remains, with the only modifications occurring at the Fogarty Esses - a far cry from the 2009 plans that would ultimately prove over-ambitious.

This isn't a bad thing - Silverstone may have been praised for its exciting new layout, but it's no Craner Curves...

The early season positioning has raised some eyebrows, but while it may be a bit on the chilly side, the sun is out (forcing me to strain my eyes through the glare on my computer screen) and the skies are clear - already better than we managed during the summer-scheduled 2008 event!

First out on track is the GB Superstock 600 and Aprilia Superteens support events, followed by the World Supersport riders at 9.45am and World Superbikes at 11.30am

 

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