Britain's superbike man of steel James Toseland made his comeback to racing here yesterday – backed by singer-songwriter Katie Melua.
Toseland, 30, rode his 200mph BMW S1000RR with four pins in his right wrist in practice for the British round of the World Superbike Championship, while Katie watched from the pitbox.
The pair have been dating for six months, but this is the first time that she has attended a race meeting, as Toseland has been recovering from a serious wrist and hand injury sustained in Spain in March.
"This morning was the first time that I've seen James on a bike," Katie said, after Toseland finished fourth fastest in the first session on the 3.666-mile circuit. "I'm into doing mad things like sky-diving and bungee-jumping, but this is a bit scary."
Toseland, who was the World Superbike champion in 2004 and 2007, is also a pianist and singer, and stars in his own rock band, Crash. "I don't need to ride motorcycles for a living any more, but I love doing it," Toseland said, after the suspect wrist stood up to 14 laps in the session. "I'm only 30; the world champion Max Biaggi is 38 and Carlos Checa is 40, so I really feel like I have more championships in me."
Toseland completed a further 17 laps in the one-hour qualifying session in the afternoon, and finished 12th fastest, with a quickest lap of 2 minutes 6.316 seconds. This made him less than a second off the pace of the fastest rider, the championship points leader Checa on a Ducati.
Checa's V-twin 1098R Ducati has less power than its four-cylinder rivals, but his private Althea team, owned by Italian ceramics manufacturer Genesio Bevilacqua, is embarrassing factory teams from BMW, Yamaha, Aprilia and Kawasaki this season, with eight wins from 16 races so far.
"This is my best season after many years of struggle," Checa said. "We have less power than the other bikes, but we are able to save our tyres better, and we are very strong on braking and turning."
Frenchman Maxime Berger was second fastest in qualifying on a Ducati, followed by the fastest Briton, the 25-year-old Tom Sykes on a Kawasaki.
Londoner Leon Camier, meanwhile, was fourth fastest on an Aprilia, from the American John Hopkins, who competes in the British Superbike series but is having a one-off outing on his Suzuki. Yamaha's Eugene Laverty was eighth fastest on a Yamaha, ahead of Biaggi on an Aprilia and Leon Haslam on a BMW.