Motorcycling: Haslam targets title as springboard to MotoGP

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The Independent Online

Leon Haslam yesterday positioned himself to win a £50,000 Audi S4 sports car in today's qualifying session for the British Superbike Championship here.

Jonathan Rea, 19, was fastest in free practice, lapping the 2.213-mile circuit in 1min 25.928sec on his Red Bull Honda. Japan's Ryuichi Kiyonari was second fastest on the factory HM Plant Honda, with Haslam in third place on his Airwaves Ducati. But Haslam was only a quarter of a second slower, in 1:26.182. And his closest challenger for the car, his team-mate Gregorio Lavilla, finished nearly a second behind Rea.

With a strong performance today, Haslam can take home the car, which is awarded to the season's best qualifier, before the final round at Brands Hatch on 1 October. The Derbyshire rider has gone to the top of the points table after a frustrating start to the season when he broke an ankle in the first event and went for 19 races without winning. Now he has won two of the last three rounds, and goes into tomorrow's two races with a 15-point lead over Lavilla and a 26-point advantage over Kiyonari.

Haslam, who wants to clinch the superbike championship to use it as a springboard into MotoGP, has been linked to a seat in 2007 with Fortuna Honda, a team that has nurtured the careers of MotoGP race winners Sete Gibernau and Marco Melandri.

He remains pragmatic about this. "I could be line for that ride, but there are probably 10 others on the list as well," he said.

In Australia, championship leader Nicky Hayden, on the factory Repsol Honda, will defend his 22-point advantage over team-mate Dani Pedrosa in the MotoGP series. The reigning champion, Valentino Rossi, on a Camel Yamaha, is a further four points back.