Tom Sykes struck the first blow on a crucial World Superbike weekend with his eighth Superpole success of the year at Portimao. The Briton trails championship leader Max Biaggi by 26.5 points heading into this penultimate meeting but has given himself the best possible chance to close the gap, especially with four riders between himself and the Italian.

Yet again, the Kawasaki ZX-10R came into its own on the qualifying tyres in SP3 and Sykes used them to great effect, clocking a 1:41.415 to beat Carlos Checa by three tenths of a second. This came despite a mistake at the final corner of his hot lap and Sykes was delighted with another dominant Saturday.

“Obviously I am really happy to get an eighth Superpole this year and when we used a qualifying tyre it improved our bike again. I am happy starting from where I am on the grid and if we can get a good clean start, and do our thing, we could have a good day. We had some small issues in Nürburgring, totally unexpected, so if we do not have them come back then we should be OK.”

“I am very fortunate and very happy that I have got these guys working for me because they believe in me 100%. Like I have always said to them, when the settings on the bike are at a good level I can ride the bike, and do what I need to do. When I crossed the line I was actually frustrated a little because I made a small mistake in one section and lost at least a tenth, something like that. So when I crossed the line maybe 80% of me was angry with myself, but the rest of me was relaxed because I had set a good lap time and front row was going to be good enough. I enjoy qualifying, and it is enjoyable just to be yourself on the bike, out on track doing your own thing. There is a lot of pressure and you have to concentrate but ultimately I enjoy it.”

Carlos Checa admitted to being pleasantly surprised with second but is bracing himself for a hectic couple of races on Sunday.

“Of course we cannot predict what will happen in the races. Today I didn’t expect this second place for example; I’m really happy but it was a little bit of a surprise. Once we put the qualifying tyre in, I found that the bike was a lot more stable and I was able to make the fast lap. For tomorrow I don’t think our pace is bad but many riders will be fast and fighting hard up front. The race is long though and so I hope to be able to do enough to be up there with them, battling it out to the end.”

Eugene Laverty is the leading Aprilia in third with the two chief title contenders right behind him. Marco Melandri will start one place ahead of Max Biaggi in fourth with his BMW teammate Leon Haslam well placed to make Max’s life difficult from sixth. Jonathan Rea, back on a superbike after racing in MotoGP last weekend, took seventh ahead of Chaz Davies with Leon Camier unlucky to miss out on SP3 in ninth.