SUPERBIKES. CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER SLIGHT UPBEAT IN USA New Zealand's top motorcycle racer Aaron Slight is in buoyant mood, already up to fifth fastest on the first day of qualifying for this weekend's American round of the world superbike ...
SUPERBIKES. CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER SLIGHT UPBEAT IN USA
New Zealand's top motorcycle racer Aaron Slight is in buoyant mood, already up to fifth fastest on the first day of qualifying for this weekend's American round of the world superbike champs. Holding a one-point lead in the title hunt, Slight needs a good showing on Monday at Laguna Seca, California, which has been a bogey track for him in the past.
Ominously his championship points chaser, Australian Troy Corser, has set fastest time so far, with final qualifying to be held tomorrow. But Slight is barely three-quarters of a second behind.
Nobody expected Slight to be in a position which would effectively put him at the top of the second row of the grid.
Clearly his Castrol Honda crew has done a lot of work on the 750 V4 to prepare it for this difficult circuit with its infamous 'corkscrew' turn which so favours Corser's Ducati.
Slight's teammate Colin Edwards, riding in his home nation for the first time on this team, fared one place better.
Both will be delighted to see the other top Ducati riders Carl Fogarty (UK) and Pier-francesco Chili (Italy), third and fourth respectively in the championship, outside the top 10 qualifiers so far.
"We worked on the bike all day, improving things," said a delighted Slight.
"Towards the end of the session it was definitely better. We've still got a bit of work to do to find some Michelin tyres that will help me win the races here.
"But we'll be ready for final qualifying and Superpole tomorrow - watch out."
Slight has his sights firmly set on Corser, who as a previous American champ knows the 3.61km circuit well. Another US title-holder Doug Chandler was third fastest today on a Kawasaki.
Besides Corser only lowly-rated Briton Neil Hodgson has got a Ducati up the order, to sixth alongside Slight.
Second quickest so far is a shock placing, unrecognised Australian Mat Mladin punting close to Corser. A gaggle of local American hotshoes are sprinkled through the top qualifiers.
But missing is the man everyone expected to shake the world supers regulars - Australian bad boy Anthony Gobert.
A superb talent kicked out of world championship racing last year for drugs use in grands prix, the youthful miscreant surprised pundits by picking up a Ducati ride in the American superbike champs this season.
He promptly made good and, declaring himself a new man clean of his old ways, Gobert rode well enough to proclaim himslef a major challenger when the world circus came to town.
But he failed the world body's compulsory drug test prior to this event.
"You just can't believe the guy," commented Slight, who put up with Gobert's antics for a couple of years in world supers.
"Everyone knew the drugs test was coming up - how stupid can you be.
"There's no place for drugs of any kind in motor racing."
Two race legs are held at the sun-drenched circuit near Monterey on Monday morning NZ time, the first flag falling at 7am just as the world soccer cup final kicks off, the second at 10.30am. Each Laguna Seca race will be 28 laps (100.856 km).
Friday's qualifying times: 1 Troy Corser, Australia (Ducati) 1m 26.484s, 2 Mat Mladin, Australia (Suzuki) 1m 26.675s, 3 Doug Chandler, USA (Kawasaki) 1m 26.675s, 4 Colin Edwards, USA (Castrol Honda) 1m 27.010s, 5 Aaron Slight, New Zealand (Castrol Honda) 1m 27.220s, 6 Neil Hodgson, GB (Kawasaki) 1m 27.353s, 7 Jamie Hacking, USA (Yamaha) 1m 27.424s, 8 Akira Yanagawa, Japan (Kawasaki) 1m 27.511s, 9 Aaron Yates, USA (Suzuki) 1m 27.582s, 10 Jamie Whitham, GB (Suzuki) 1m 27.647s.
Sportsweb (NZ) Ltd. Sport Website Specialists http://www.sportsweb.co.nz