The British challenger James Toseland celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday by setting the fastest lap of the day at the Magny-Cours circuit in France in preparation for tomorrow's decisive final round of the World Superbike Championship.
Toseland, who leads the series by 29 points, lapped in 1 minute 40.718 seconds on his Hannspree Ten Kate Honda in the morning's practice session. Riders would normally have gone quicker in the afternoon qualifying period, but rain early in that session made conditions difficult, and the Italian Lorenzo Lanzi (Xerox Ducati) was fastest, nearly two-10ths slower than Toseland's earlier time. Toseland finished seventh best in qualifying, and was not worried by the third placing of his title rival Noriyuki Haga (Yamaha Italia).
"Conditions in qualifying were not good enough to match the morning practice, but I'm happy with the way things have gone," Toseland said.
He has seen his lead tumble from 66 points after his double victory at Brands Hatch in August after two difficult rounds in Germany and Italy.
But he is refusing to ride defensively, even though with 50 points available from tomorrow's two races both Haga and the Italian Max Biaggi (Corona Alstare Suzuki) could steal the title from him.
"I don't want to get into all the permutations about how I can win the title," he said. "It's not my style to ride tactically. I'm a racer and I'm going out to win."
Toseland has already signed to step up to the Yamaha Tech 3 team in MotoGP in 2008, and desperately needs to enter motorcycle racing's premier series as the superbike king rather than as the rider who let a huge lead slip away. He may be heartened by the fact that Biaggi did not get to grips with conditions yesterday, finishing only 14th fastest in the morning and 13th best in qualifying.
World Superbikes Championship (Round 13, Magny-Cours): Leading positions after first qualifying: 1 L Lanzi (It) Ducati 1min 40.962secs, 2 T Bayliss (Aus) Ducati 1:41.334, 3 N Haga (Japan) Yamaha 1:41.402, 4 F Nieto (Sp) Kawasaki 1:41.423, 5 T Corser (Aus) Yamaha 1:41.425, 6 R Xaus (Sp) Ducati 1:41.731, 7 J Toseland (GB) Honda 1:41.742, 8 R Laconi (Fr) Kawasaki 1:41.840, 9 K Muggeridge (Aus) Honda 1:42.012, 10 M Fabrizio (It) Honda 1:42.136, 11 R Rolfo (Ita) Honda 1:42.147, 12 J Smrz (Cz) Ducati 1:42.376, 13 M Neukirchner (Ger) Suzuki 1:42.397, 14 M Biaggi (It) Suzuki 1:42.620, 15 Y Tiberio (Fr) Honda 1:43.132