Jakub Smrz has produced an upset during qualifying for the opening World Superbike event of the season after securing a surprise last gasp provisional pole position.

Although it isn't the first time the Czech rider has found himself at the head of the WSBK timesheets, Smrz's feat comes having made a huge improvement on his placing of 16th quickest during free practice, the Guandalini rider slicing 1.6secs off his best lap to take charge.

Undermining the anticipated rivalry between a number of his higher-profile rivals, Smrz claimed the top spot with his final effort following a flurry of quick laps late on that had looked as though would leave Noriyuki Haga and Leon Haslam in charge.

Indeed, Haslam was just 30 seconds away from giving Johan Stigefelt's Stiggy Racing team a dream debut performance in Superbikes when he was undercut by Haga on the Ducati Xerox. However, the Japanese rider soon found himself being bumped down shortly afterwards following an inspired lap from Smrz.

However, the trio's advances were left rather late, with all three featuring in the lower end of the top ten for much of the session before showing their hand.

Instead, the early running was made by Ryuichi Kiyonari, who held the top spot for more than half the session before Michel Fabrizio deposed him with just over twenty minutes remaining. He didn't maintain the position for long though, with Max Neukirchner producing the fastest lap of the day so far to take his Suzuki top, while Yukio Kagayama set up a potential 1-2 result by slotting in just behind his team-mate.

However, the Alstare pair were eventually forced to make do with fourth and fifth positions, ahead of Shinya Nakano, who put in another impressive performance on the Aprilia to go a provisional sixth. Team-mate Max Biaggi had run second in the early stages, but failed to better his time as the conditions improved and would eventually end up 11th.

Fabrizio would go on to end the session seventh, ahead of practice pace setter Ben Spies, the American failing to improve upon his earlier lap down in eighth. Team-mate Tom Sykes was a welcome face inside the top ten, though, just behind in ninth, while Kiyonari clung onto tenth despite going no quicker in the closing stages.

Elsewhere, Shane Byrne is continuing to struggle on the sole Sterilgarda Ducati. The British rider spent much of the session languishing outside the top twenty, but while a late effort put him in on the fringes of the top ten, he would eventually be demoted to 15th.

Still, it put him ahead of Jonathan Rea, who was a lowly 17th, the British pair being separated by Troy Corser on the best of the BMW entries. The fifth and final Brit, Tommy Hill, was 21st quickest.

Meanwhile, as was the case during free practice, there wasn't much to choose between the riders, with just 1.5secs covering the top 18. It is a statistic that should ensure an exciting maiden running for the new knockout Superpole format tomorrow.

Before that, Qualifying 2 will decide which riders will go ahead to the 'three-stage' format, with only the top twenty making it through.



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