Carlos Checa gave the new Ducati Panigale 1199R a dream debut in World Superbikes by snatching the first pole position of the 2013 season in Australia. The former champion denied Eugene Laverty and pre-session favourite Michel Fabrizio although he needed a Superpole lap record to do so, pipping Laverty by two tenths of a second.
Fabrizio had dominated the weekend leading up to Superpole, topping three of the earlier four sessions, but Marco Melandri was the first to stake a claim for pole, setting a 1:30.615 on his very first lap of SP3. 2012’s king of Superpole, Tom Sykes, matched Melandri to the thousandth of a second, placing him ahead, and it seemed 2013 would begin with an all-too-familiar sight for Kawasaki.
However, Sykes and Melandri chose to stay in the pits in the closing minutes and Checa took full advantage with a blistering lap, almost four tenths ahead of last season’s title challengers. Fabrizio had actually made the final session by the skin of his teeth but found his form in the nick of time to go second, fractionally quicker than Sykes and Melandri but Eugene Laverty would ensure the factory Aprilia team outpaced Michel and Red Devils Roma with a 1:30.429, capping a decent start for the new team leader.
With new rules allocating three riders to a row, Sykes will have to make do with fourth on the grid with Melandri alongside. Sylvain Guintoli will make his Aprilia debut from sixth while Leon Camier heads the third row for FIXI Crescent Suzuki, backing up his stunning testing form. The two PATA Hondas will start side-by-side but Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea, eighth and ninth respectively, will be disappointed to have made up the numbers in the shootout for pole.
The searing pace in SP2 had actually forced Haslam into a last gasp fight for survival with the Briton finding himself in the drop zone thanks to his teammate’s own improvement. Haslam hauled himself out of danger with a 1:31.224, eliminating Davide Giugliano who would rue a mistake at the final corner of his best lap. Loris Baz and Chaz Davies complete the fourth row with the latter surely expecting more from his BMW debut.
The opening session went largely to form with the big hitters making it through without any difficulty. A late personal best saw Baz climb out of danger and relegated Max Neukirchner along with home-based wildcard Jamie Stauffer who wrecked his Honda with a crash on his second timed lap. The final place on the fifth row will be taken up by Ivan Clementi with the riders unable to reach Superpole completing the line-up. That list will not include Ayrton Badovini who has pulled out after a fall on Friday proved one crash too many.