Weather played the biggest role so far at Chang International Circuit for the first-ever round of World Superbike held in Thailand.
Extreme humidity and high temperatures plagued Friday’s two free-practice sessions (FP1 and FP2), which was led by Voltcom Suzuki’s Alex Lowes, and rain prevented any progress during Saturday morning’s third and final free-practice (FP3) session. During FP3, riders went out for a sighting lap, but all 26 return to the garage to prep for the afternoon’s Superpole sessions. Without an FP3, all Superpole starting positions were solely based on Friday’s FP1 and FP2 times.
The weather took a drastic turn on Saturday afternoon, and track conditions were nearly perfect, though the temps were in the 90s (F) once again. This allowed the lap times to tumble, and one man to secure his second pole position of 2015 World Superbike for a perfect Superpole record after two of 13 rounds – Kawasaki Racing Team’s Jonathan Rea.
The Northern Irishman, who was just nudged out of Friday’s top spot by Lowes, posted a 1:33.382 around the 2.8-mile circuit located near Buriram, which translates to “City of Happiness.” This was Rea’s sixth-career SBK Superpole win.
The battles of the 15-minute Superpole session were intense, but Rea was able secure the pole by a mere 0.011 of a second ahead of the rider who shared a win with him a month ago at Phillip Island – Aprilia Racing Team Red Devils’ Leon Halsam. Taking the final third-row starting position is Lowes, who trailed Rea by 0.356 of a second.
“It’s good to make it two out of two. We know the Kawasaki really takes profit from a soft tire, especially the qualifier. My pace has been really strong all weekend in race conditions so I knew just to make clean laps in Superpole. But in every lap I made a mistake in T4 – the fast left – so I ended up much too fast and the rear came round, which is a problem I have been working on a little bit,” Rea said.
“We found some things after we struggled with my back brake at times but we fixed it in this final session. I was able to enter T5 much better. I made a mistake in T1 on the first flying lap and then I saw the time was P1, so I knew not to push too much and just make a clean lap next time. I saw a 1’33.3 near the end of the session and I thought it may not be enough, so I tried again on the third lap with a qualifier, but already the tyre had had enough.”
Bari Racing Ducati’s Leandro Mercado and Pata Honda World Superbike Team’s Michael van der Mark – the reigning World Supersport Champion – topped Superpole 1, and were able to join the already-seeded top 10 in Superpole 2.
Heading up the second row is the 2013 World Superbike Champion, Kawasaki Racing’s Tom Sykes, who trailed his teammate by 0.459 of a second. Sykes is joined by Haslam’s teammate Jordi Torres and the top Ducati rider, Aruba Ducati Superbike’s Chaz Davies.
Row three consists of three-time World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss (spark-filled video below!), who is substituting for the injured Davide Giugliano on the Aruba Ducati Superbike Team 1199 Panigale R, van der Mark and the reigning World SBK Champion, Pata Honda World Superbike’s Sylvain Guintoli. Mercardo, Team Pedercini Kawasaki’s David Salomon and Althea Racing Ducati’s Matteo Baiocco make up row four.
As for America’s Team Hero EBR, Niccolo Canepa qualified 14th aboard the 1190RX, and rider/team manager Larry Pegram 23rd.
The grid for Sunday’s two-20-minute is now set, with the top-seven pilots covered by less than a second, and five manufacturers in the top-eight places.
2015 Thailand SBK Superpole Results:
1. Rea (Kawasaki) 1’33.382
2. Haslam (Aprilia) 1’33.393
3. Lowes (Suzuki) 1’33.738
4. Sykes (Kawasaki) 1’33.841
5. Torres (Aprilia) 1’34.080
6. Davies (Ducati) 1’34.084
7. Bayliss (Ducati) 1’34.334
8. VD Mark (Honda) 1’34.514
9. Guintoli (Honda) 1’34.562
10. Mercado (Ducati) 1’34.674