Crutchlow sets the early pace at Silverstone

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The Independent Online

Britain's Cal Crutchlow reinforced his bid to become Rookie of the Year in the World Superbike Championship yesterday by leading provisional qualifying for his home round at Silverstone on his 1,000cc Yamaha YZF R1.

Crutchlow, 24, blazed round the new 3.666-mile circuit in 2 minutes 5.664 seconds, to lead the Northern Irish rider Jonathan Rea, on a Ten Kate Honda, by 0.342sec. The Australian former double WSB champion Troy Corser brought his BMW S1000 RR into third, but another of Britain's young lions, Leon Camier, 23, completed the provisional front row on his Aprilia.

The championship leader, Italian Max Biaggi, could only manage seventh fastest on his Aprilia, 0.651sec slower than Crutchlow. But the 39-year-old veteran had the consolation of finishing one place ahead of the only man who can beat him to the title, the Briton Leon Haslam.

Haslam, 27, is 68 points behind with only four rounds and eight races remaining – but he has the confidence of knowing that he has already won three races this year on his Suzuki GSX-R1000, and has beaten Biaggi six times. "I'm focused on race wins now, and we've already achieved that this year on very different circuits and on three continents," Haslam said. "I'm certain that we can find all the ingredients again."

All riders are offered identical Pirelli tyres in the Superbike series. But one handicap that Haslam faces is that his Suzuki, which has been entered by Belgium's Alstare team, does not get direct factory support, whereas Biaggi's Aprilia RSV4 is built by dedicated technicians at the heart of an Italian team with a strong racing legacy.

Haslam hopes that the revised Silverstone circuit will favour his Suzuki. "It has big straights that you come on to quite fast," he said. "If it had tight hairpins the Aprilia would have an advantage on acceleration."

Haslam must now try to get in front of Biaggi in today's Superpole session that determines the grid positions for tomorrow's two races. A rider who could upset both their dreams of winning is the former double World Superbike champion James Toseland, who finished sixth in qualifying yesterday, and is a legendarily tough fighter once the racing starts.

"All the little problems we've had this year has meant that the championship has gone away a little bit, so I'm coming to Silverstone with nothing to lose," said Toseland, who returned to the series after a two-season stint in MotoGP. "With seven British riders on the grid there's every chance the podium will be all-British."