Team M4 Monster Energy Suzuki got off to a hot start at a sweltering VIRginia International Raceway on Friday as Daytona SportBike title contender Martin Cardenas posted the second fastest time in the day’s qualifying session.The Colombian improved upon his second-ranked time of 1:28.369 in the free session to cut a 1:28.135 aboard his GSX-R600 in qualifying, placing him second on the provisional order.Martin Cardenas
says: “The bike is working great,” Cardenas said. “We tried some things in the practice and based on that decided to go a certain direction in qualifying and it went really well.We did a lot of laps on the same tires so I think the set-up is going to be good for the race tomorrow. If the weather allows, we’ll try to go a little faster in qualifying and then get ready to race.“It’s going to be a tough race because of the heat and the humidity, but it’s the same for everybody. Plus, I think my fitness is quite good so it’s not going to be a problem.”Last year’s visit to VIR was one to forget for Martin, as he was injured in a crash, ultimately bringing his championship hopes to an end.The former Spanish Supersport title winner claims that fact has had no negative impact on his approach this weekend, and in fact only fuels him as this year’s title chase heads down the homestretch.Cardenas has closed to within 12 points of the championship lead on the basis of his six victories in 2010.“At the beginning I had to do some laps to get used to it again, but last year was my mistake,” he admitted. “I wasn’t concentrating enough and I made the mistake, but we’re ready to go this year. The last three races are going to be very important for the championship. I’m going to try to close the gap and we’ll see what happens.”Meanwhile, John Hopkins made a welcome return to action and impressed by proving to be immediately on the pace following an extended layoff recovering from wrist surgery.The former MotoGP star claimed the fifth fastest time of the opening AMA Pro American Superbike session at 1:26.629 and backed that up with a strong sixth-place showing in provisional qualifying, lapping at 1:26.310.Chris Ulrich rounded out a strong Friday for the squad, twice breaking into the Superbike top ten.He practiced at eighth fastest aboard his GSX-R1000 (1:27.272) and lopped almost three-tenths off that mark to qualify tenth best provisionally at 1:26.993.On Saturday morning Team M4 Monster Energy Suzuki will claim their final grip positions for the weekend’s twin 23-lap Superbike and SportBike contest before opening the race action in the afternoon.