The huge buzz of expectation at the Dutch round of the Superbike World Championship at Assen centres on the crowning of Neil Hodgson as world champion but, while the runaway series leader was fastest for most of Friday free practice and first qualifying, it looks likely that he will be under threat from his old HM Plant Ducati team.

Hodgson's fellow Brits, Chris Walker and James Toseland, wound up second and eighth on the provisional grid for Sunday's two races, as they showed that, while they may be out of the reckoning for the title, they intend to focus on their personal goals in the remaining three rounds of the championship.

Toseland, in particular, has much to play for as he lies only 19 points behind Ruben Xaus in the battle for second place. The 22-year old won his first WSBK race this year, and has come of age in his third year of racing in the series, but the times at the end of the first day did him an injustice. He was second in the closing stages of the session, when the red flag was shown due to an incident involving one of the wild card riders and, with only three minutes remaining, opted to sit out the quick two-lap dash to the chequered flag.

"I'm really happy with how I've performed today," Toseland insisted, "I was second for nearly all of the first qualifying session, having set my time on race tyres. There was no point in me wasting a qualifying tyre with dry weather forecast for tomorrow. We've got some more tyres to test, but we're looking at a good race set-up from the outset."

Team-mate Walker moved onto the provisional front row behind Gregorio Lavilla, relegating Hodgson to third, by venturing out in the last-dash battle for qualifying position.

"I opted to use a qualifying tyre in the closing moments of qualifying and it paid off," said the veteran British rider, "This is the first time that I have ridden a Ducati at Assen, and I'm having to put the work in to get the bike set up to my liking. It's going well so far and I'm confident of making further progress tomorrow. Like all the British riders, I'm looking forward to the support we're going to enjoy over the weekend - let's hope that we can give them some results to cheer about."

 

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