WSBK Aragon: Sykes takes the 20th pole position of his career

Sykes and Kawasaki teammate Baz perhaps not on the greatest of terms? Aprilia’s Guintoli also on front row

Ducati, Suzuki and—to a lesser extent—Honda may have closed the gap, but Kawasaki and Aprilia proved to be still the bikes to beat in WSBK Superpole in Aragon. After keeping his cards close to his chest in free practice—he only broke the 1'58 mark once—Tom Sykes raised the stakes in qualifiers to claim the twentieth pole position of his career with a blistering 1'56.479, only a tenth slower than his own lap record of 1'56.339 set last year, despite the cooler weather conditions. Teammate Loris Baz and championship leader Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia) joined him in first row, with the two official Ducatis of Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies quickly in tow—within less than half a second—second row, sandwiching Jonathan Rea's Honda.

"It could have gone even better," Sykes said. "During the time attack with a qualifying tire, the front gave me three warnings, which for me are two too many, in the first four corners. I reckoned I was pushing the front too much. My target was just the first row. Then I relaxed a little bit, and took pole position. I'm happy, but I know I'm facing two hard-fought races tomorrow."

The reigning world champion is not simply fighting for a maiden victory in 2014, but also for general stripes in the Provec team, which his teammate Loris Baz is also targeting. The 21-year-old Frenchman showed – predictably – little respect for him during the season opener in Phillip Island, preceding him on the finish line of race two also thanks to a couple of aggressive moves. Further hints of what has the potential to become a heated rivalry were given in Spain.

"I'm not racing against him," Sykes stiffly replied to the question of whether Baz would be his main rival in the race, adding: "After Phillip Island, I reckon there are some people who are ready to not give as much room as before. I think there could be at least five riders challenging for the win."

"It wasn't easy to adapt my style to the ZX-10R and vice-versa," Baz replied. "Tom has a very different style from mine. He brakes really late, stops the bike mid-corner, then opens the throttle early. I focus more on corner speed. I think I can at least challenge for the the podium tomorrow, as I'm usually faster during the race than in qualifiers."

Aprilia's Marco Melandri made a modification to his forks prior to qualifying that didn't pay off, putting the Italian on the fourth row.Fabrizio Porrozzi

The Aprilia duo comprised of Sylvain Guintoli and Marco Melandri is also engaged in close – though much friendlier – contact. However, the narrow gap between the two riders extended during Superpole. "I made a small modification to the front forks that took away my confidence in the first three turns with a qualifying tires," Melandri, who was seventh and last (+0.584 seconds behind Sykes) in the front group. "I'm disappointed, as I had a great pace with race tires, even in the long distance, and to start at the front here in Aragon is pivotal with turn one so close to the finish line. That said, I'm in a much better shape than in Phillip Island."

In his usual, subdued fashion, Guintoli challenged for pole position with the Kawasaki couple, losing by only 0.290 seconds. "During the free-practice sessions, I focused more on race pace than on a flying lap," he admitted. "Kawasakis beat me, but we don't take points today. I managed to lap about a second faster than last year, which means that my experience on the RSV4 is bearing its fruits. I'm expecting two close races tomorrow. Aragon is a physical track. More than a marathon, it will be like an 'Iron Man'."

The European round also marks the debut of WSBK's new TV format, with race one scheduled for 10.30 a.m. At that time, temperatures are likely to be in the 60's, significantly cooler than for race two. To this end, riders carefully evaluated all the different compounds for the rear tire, which most say will be a deciding factor. However, most of them did not make a decision yet.

"With track temperatures around 70 degrees, the softer compound could possibly not last long enough," said Giugliano, who took fourth place on the grid on a quickly improving Ducati Panigale. "I personally don't know which tire I'll use, and I think tomorrow's races are a big question mark. None of us has yet been able to do more than five laps in a row. I struggled with the front tire pumping for most of the day, I was really nervous, but managed to calm down and finally picked up a competitive pace on a race tire."

Eugene Laverty on Suzuki led the second group from eighth position, +1.257 seconds behind after being forced into the pits with smoke coming from his GSX-R, which already suffered an engine failure in Australia. Luckily, the Irishman avoided further technical damages. Leon Camier led the way in the EVO category with BMW, in eleventh position overall, almost three seconds behind Sykes.

Team EBR did not classify for Superpole – only the first 20 riders after free practice are allowed – posting the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth best time respectively with Aaron Yates and Geoff May. "Time is working against us," May said. "At least, I feel about 95 percent physically after breaking my collarbone in Australia. I lack more time on the bike than strength. We are getting better every time we go out and our goal for tomorrow is try to reduce the gap to the top 20 as much as we can, finishing both races in the process."

World Superbike Aragon Superpole qualifying results:

Pos. Rider Country Machine Time
1. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki 1:56.479
2. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki 1:56.675
3. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Aprilia 1:56.769
4. Davide Giugliano (ITA) Ducati 1:56.825
5. Jonathan Rea (GBR) Honda 1:56.972
6. Chaz Davies (GBR) Ducati 1:56.977
7. Marco Melandri (ITA) Aprilia 1:57.063
8. Eugene Laverty (IRL) Suzuki 1:57.736
9. Alex Lowes (GBR) Suzuki 1:57.975
10. Toni Elias (SPA) Aprilia 1:58.180
11. Leon Camier (GBR) BMW EVO 1:59.326
12. Leon Haslam (GBR) Honda 1:59.376
13. Niccolo Canepa (ITA) Ducati 1:59.255
14. David Salom (SPA) Kawasaki EVO 1:59.486
15. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) Bimota EVO 1:59.596
16. Claudio Corti (ITA) MV Agusta 1:59.747
17. Sheridan Morias (RSA) Kawasaki EVO 2:00.415
18. Christian Iddon (GBR) Bimota EVO 2:01.102
19. Michel Fabrizio (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 2:01.862
20. Jeremy Guarnoni (FRA) Kawasaki EVO 2:01.076
21. Fabian Foret (SPA) Kawaski EVO 2:01.511
22. Luca Scassa (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 2:02.037
23. Alessandro Andreozzi (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 2:02.507
24. Imre Toth (HUN) BMW EVO 2:02.672
25. Aaron Yates (USA) EBR 2:03.102
26. Geoff May (USA) EBR 2:03.657
27. Peter Sebestyen (HUN) BMW EVO 2:05.570