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Old 08-02-2015, 01:30 AM   #1
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World Superbike Sepang Superpole: Sykes takes his 28th career pole

Heading into qualifiers in Sepang (Malaysia), Tom Sykes kept an ace up his sleeve. The Kawasaki rider barely made the cut straight into Superpole 2 after posting the ninth best time in free practice, during which he focused on tire wear, but climbed back through the field in a seemingly effortless fashion in the afternoon to claim the 28th pole position of his career with a 2:03.240.

“Overall it was a pretty relaxed session,” he commented. “Yesterday's rain delayed our program a little bit so we had to use Superpole to verify a couple of things, but fortunately we got the confirmation we expected. Tomorrow, the Aprilias will be our main rivals. They're fast in each condition, Biaggi included. No matter what he says, he had four days of testing here last week. So, no excuses.”

Trailing his teammate and championship leader Jonathan Rea—seventh on the grid due to a gearshift glitch—by 125 points, Sykes thus laid a solid base in his quest to keep the championship open beyond the summer break, which he will achieve as long as he does not lose 25 or more points to the Ulsterman in tomorrow's races.

Rookie Jordi Torres (Aprilia) took second place on the grid, finishing 0.270 seconds behind Sykes. The Spaniard is carrying the momentum from Laguna Seca—where he finished third in Race Two—to Sepang, arguably with the added motivation of putting 44-year-old Max Biaggi behind him after being outraced twice in Misano previously this season.

“Having Max as an extra reference didn't give me any advantage,” he said. “There's a wall between us, and I don't have access to his data even though he practiced here last week. For tomorrow, my goal is to stay with the front as long as I can. I'm pretty fast on new tires, but I'm still worried about the race distance.”

In a somewhat unexpected fashion, reigning world champion Sylvain Guintoli took his maiden first row of the year, 0.596 seconds behind Sykes, after switching to Honda machinery. “We've been working hard since the beginning of the season, and finally it seems all the long hours are starting to pay off,” commented the Frenchman. “It's not just technical stuff though. We didn't give up mentally even though this season has not been what any of us expected, so it’s good to have a result like this. We've done our homework for the race as well, but it'll depend basically on who's faster on used tires, because there's a big drop in grip after the first few laps.”

Biaggi also prepared his assault meticulously, taking fourth place with a late push in T4. The Roman Emperor was trailing Sykes by eight tenths of a second heading into the last sector, but somehow managed to cut the gap and finish 0.708 behind his old foe.

“We fought back in style,” said Biaggi. “It felt like going back in time. I found the extra motivation that I needed and pushed even harder. I'm no longer used to race at the limit since the very first lap on a new tire, but the old school is still quite good (laughs). I just had to step back in the classroom. I read those books already, but needed to take some dust off of them.”

Alex Lowes (Suzuki) and Chaz Davies (Ducati) were quickly in tow, followed by Rea and Leon Haslam. Only nine tenths of a second separate the first eight riders on the grid, a prelude to a couple of close races. In the dry, Kawasaki and Aprilia reportedly have the upper hand, as they were the only bikes capable of lapping in between the high 2:04 and low 2:05 mark consistently, but even a few degrees' change in track temperatures can shuffle the cards conspicuously. Not to mention the 50 percent chance of rain, which can bless a few outsiders, Guintoli above all.

World Superbike Sepang Superpole qualifying results:
1. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki Racing Team 2:03.240
2. Jordi Torres (SPA) Aprilia Racing/Red Devils 2:03.510
3. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Pata Honda WSBK 2:03.836
4. Max Biaggi (ITA) Aprilia Racing Team 2:03.948
5. Alex Lowes (GBR) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki 2:04.018
6. Chaz Davies (GBR) Racing-Ducati SBK Team 2:04.179
7. Jonathan Rea (GBR) Kawasaki Racing Team 2:04.207
8. Leon Haslam (GBR) Aprilia Racing/Red Devils 2:04.214
9. Niccolò Canepa (ITA) Althea Racing Ducati 2:04.654
10. Matteo Baiocco (ITA) Althea Racing Ducati 2:05.000
11. Randy De Puniet (FRA) Voltcom Crescent Suzuki 2:05.100
12. Michael Van der Mark (NET) Pata Honda WSBK 2:05.004
13. Leon Camier (GBR) MV Agusta Reparto Corse 2:05.051
14. Román Ramos (SPA) Team Go Eleven Kawasaki 2:06.145
15. Leandro Mercado (ARG) Barni Racing Ducati 2:06.261
16. David Salom (SPA) Team Pedercini Kawasaki 2:06.707
17. Gianluca Vizziello (ITA) Grillini SBK Kawasaki 2:07.525
18. Christophe Ponsson (FRA) Team Pedercini Kawasaki 2:08.269
19. Gábor Rizmayer (HUN) BMW Team Toth 2:09.112
20. Alex Phillis (AUS) Grillini SBK Kawasaki 2:10.512
21. Imre Toth (HUN) BMW Team Toth 2:10.585

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