In HM Plant/GSE Racing's final World Superbike appearance for the time being at least, factory Ducati bound Englishman James Toseland finally scored his long awaited first career Superpole with a blistering lap around Magny Cours.

The Ducati Fila bound Brit set a best time of 1min 40.965secs - close to the absolute best of the weekend - to edge out new World Champion Neil Hodgson, the man he'll replace next year.

"It feels strange to have secured my first World Superbike pole position, but I'm over the moon with how everything has gone today," said Toseland. "We've had a few problems this weekend but the team has worked really hard to turn things around for me.

"I'd like to dedicate my pole position to the HM Plant Ducati team and Dunlop. It's no secret that they're not running in the championship next year and I'm moving on to the factory Ducati team, so this is a good-bye present from me," he said. "I've had three fantastic years with the team and I'd like to thank them for giving me this opportunity and helping me to develop my career."

Having qualifyied ninth yesterday, Hodgson was a much happier man today after returning to a set-up he knows well - but his day wasn't without problems.

"We put the bike back to how I normally have it after changing it too much yesterday and I felt much happier today," confirmed Neil. "For Superpole I had to use my spare bike because when I came in after the warm-up, my race bike had an alternator problem.

"No excuses, but that bike didn't just feel the same over one lap and it stopped me from pushing that little bit harder. It's just a shame that we are racing in France this time of year because although the circuit is fantastic and we all love racing here, there have been too many crashes because of the cold conditions," he added.

Behind the top two, the local crowd were denied the sight of their hero Regis Laconi taking Superpole - patriotic tricolour leathers or not - but the proven race winner is very much in contention for his first race wins of the year, starting from third on the grid for the NCR Ducati team. Laconi will join Toseland at the factory Ducati team next year.

Fastest man after second qualifying was the impressive Ruben Xaus, who will start from fourth in tomorrow's two races after slipping slightly in Superpole. Few would bet against the lanky Spaniard from battling for more wins on what could well be his final WSBK event after Fila confirmed he won't be with them next season.

"I'm happy because I'm on the front row for the races tomorrow after taking such a long time to get the bike set-up to my liking the last two days," declared Xaus. "In Superpole I had to wait until I was last out and it was probably just that little bit colder for me to get some more heat in the tyres for my quick lap.

"The track is difficult because of the weather conditions but it's really nice to race here. I'll give everything tomorrow because it's the last race of the year in Superbikes and it's sure to be a tough battle at the front against the other three guys."

The second row of the grid will feature the talents of Laguna Seca race winner Pierfrancesco Chili, who set the fifth best time in what was a dramatic and somewhat unpredictable session - which started 15 minutes late because of a high number of red flags in earlier practice sessions.

Toseland's team-mate Chris Walker eased into sixth place, but was nursing a few bruises after a crash this morning.

"It was quite a slow front end crash as I was preparing to exit the hairpin but I hit the deck quite hard," said the Nottingham rider. "I landed on my backside and the resultant bruising restricted my movement a bit this afternoon. It was a shame because I'd had a really good run up until that point. I've still been in the top six all weekend and so I'm hoping that I'll be in the mix for the podium places tomorrow."
Alstare Suzuki's Gregorio Lavilla, who lost time in the middle split, dropped from the front row start spot he'd claimed after regular qualifying to seventh.

"The track conditions are not the same or even similar to when we tested here recently," he sighed. "Even worse, they were different to yesterday so it's made all our jobs very hard and a little frustrating. Yesterday's good tyre just wouldn't work at all in the same way today!

"My GSXR1000 seems to prefer fast and flowing circuits and Magny-Cours is not like that. Tomorrow's results will depend on how good a start I can make as this place is not so good for overtaking. But I am determined to get a good result and I would be happy to be on the podium," he added.

Nevertheless, Lavilla must have been particularly relived to beat the highly impressive time of World Endurance regular Sebastian Gimbert. The local wild-card rider set the Superpole competition alight with his quick time early in the session on his SERT Suzuki, and made it a nail biting ride for some of the regular competitors.

Another wild-card, Renegade Ducati's Leon Haslam scored a superb tenth, just behind the DFX Pirelli Ducati of Steve Martin.

Not so impressive was the most successful Superpole exponent ever, Troy Corser, who lost his chance of a front row start after the back end of his FP-1 slipped sideways on the entrance to a corner, causing the Aussie to run wide, and over the gravel, before recovering to post a time - albeit way off the pace.

"I was back-shifting going into the first corner and the back end came round," he confirmed. "It would be really strange for a qualifying tyre to lose grip like that and I have been struggling with the clutch all weekend, so that could have been the reason.

"I was focused on not hitting the wall and it was only when I was riding out of the gravel that I realised that I should have stopped," he added.

Despite his brave finish, Corser will start from 16th place on the grid, but may still surprise tomorrow, such was his pace in earlier sessions.

 

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