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Title contender Sylvain Guintoli has given himself a welcome confidence boost ahead of the critical penultimate World Superbike Championship round at Magny-Cours as he comfortably paced Q1.

Erstwhile series leader Guintoli comes into his home event having slipped back to third position in the standings with two rounds to go, the Frenchman hoping the lift of performing on familiar ground will help him bridge the 23 point gap to the front.

It's a benefit the Aprilia rider - a winner at Magny-Cours on a Ducati last season - appears to be revelling in so far as he comfortably out-performed his rivals in a grey and overcast Q1 session.

The only rider to break 1min 39secs, Guintoli was four tenths faster than main rival and championship leader Tom Sykes aboard the Kawasaki ZX-10R, with Chaz Davies completing the top three on his BMW S1000RR.

A strong day for the FIXI Crescent Suzuki team, local riders Jules Cluzel and stand-in rider Vincent Philippe were an impressive fourth and seventh best, the pair split by the Aprilias of Eugene Laverty and Davide Giugliano.

With a need to out-score Sykes this weekend to keep his title hopes alive into the final round at Jerez, Marco Melandri was the lowest-placed of the championship contenders in eighth position, with FP1 pace setter Michel Fabrizio in ninth.

Despite losing out on mileage in a damp practice session, WSBK newcomer Michele Pirro was impressively up to speed in Q1 on the Alstare Ducati as he grabbed tenth, while Kawasaki substitute David Salom is also comfortably on course for Superpole in 11th place.

Joining them in the provisional top fifteen required to progress to Superpole after Q2 is Leon Haslam, Ayrton Badovini, Lorenzo Lanzi - the series returnee impressing aboard a fairly dated Ducati 1098R - and Toni Elias.

Their inclusion means Mark Aitchison is currently out of contention - seven tenths adrift of 15th place -, along with Federico Sandi, Fabrizio Lai and Vittorio Iannuzzo.



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