Belfast Telegraph

Ulster aces keeping heat on Checa

By Paul Lindsay

The penultimate round of the World Superbike Championship takes place this weekend at Magny Cours in France, with Spanish veteran Carlos Checa on the verge of lifting his first world title.

The Althea Ducati rider, who takes a mammoth 97-point lead into tomorrow’s two races, topped yesterday’s opening qualifying session. Ulsterman Eugene Laverty showed an immediate return to form in second place on the factory R1 Yamaha — impressively, just 1/100th second down on Checa.

Sylvain Guintoli, the Leicestershire based Frenchman, put his Effenbert Liberty Racing Ducati on the provisional front row in third place with Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes making up the leading quartet in fourth.

Jakub Smrz was fifth during yesterday’s session on his Effenbert machine, just ahead of Imola race winner Jonathan Rea [Castrol Honda] and fellow Brit Leon Haslam [BMW]. Pata Racing Aprilia’s Nori Haga rounded out the leading eight places on day one.

Rea explained: “It was quite a difficult session because I was in and out of the garage trying to sort out little issues.

“We found a bit of rhythm towards the end of the session though and the bike felt OK, although we’re still struggling a little in one sector.

“We need to make some changes to help that and, like last year, the long left at the bottom of the hill is causing some problems.”

Conspicuous by his absence is outgoing world champion Max Biaggi, who is still out with a foot injury. His Alitalia Aprilia team-mate Leon Camier was almost a second down in 16th place.

Also struggling is Yamaha number one Marco Melandri who finished the day in 14th. Superpole Qualifying takes place today from 3pm with race action on Sunday at 12pm and 3pm.

Chaz Davies is bidding to become the first Welshman to take a motorcycling world crown this weekend in the World Supersport class. Davies was in a commanding ten second lead just seven days’ ago at Imola, but was halted by an uncharacteristic engine failure on his R6 Yamaha. He leads Frenchman Fabien Foret by 35 points in the standings and barring another mechanical disaster he should be crowned champion on Sunday night.

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Dani Pedrosa finished top after day one of practice at the Japanese Grand Prix ahead of MotoGP World Championship leader Casey Stoner as Repsol Honda riders filled the top three places in Motegi. Following Pedrosa and Stoner was Andrea Dovizioso after the second free practice while defending champion Jorge Lorenzo was fifth.

Stoner is on the brink of becoming double world champion, holding a 44-point lead over Lorenzo.

The Australian was quickest in first practice, setting the fastest lap of the session with one minute 47.289 seconds ahead of team-mate Dovizioso.

Nicky Hayden was third, despite a run-off, while Pedrosa was in fourth — a little more than half a second off Stoner's time — one place ahead of Lorenzo.

The class then headed out for the second free practice for a session in which six riders were run off the track.

Pedrosa took over top spot with 21 minutes to go and set a new fast lap of 1min 46.790secs ahead of team-mate Stoner by a margin of 0.054s.

Dovizioso followed with a 1:46.952, with San Carlo Honda Gresini Team's Marco Simoncelli occupying fourth spot after leading in the early part of the session.

Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing) was fifth in the combined time while Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team), third in FP1, ended the day in sixth.

Pedrosa said: “Everybody here at the Motegi circuit has done a very good job with the new surface, the grip is much better than before and this is one of the reasons why the lap times have improved quite a lot already from last year.”

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