Jonathan Rea may only need three points to secure his sixth WorldSBK Championship title this afternoon, but the Ulsterman will be doing it the hard way after suffering a huge crash in qualifying at Estoril, leaving him 15th on the grid.

However, in one to file ‘you couldn’t make it up’ his main rival Scott Redding - who needs to win regardless of where Rea finishes in any one of the three races this weekend - would also crash in Superpole, leaving him at the back of the order.

Instead, Toprak Razgatlioglu starts race one in Portugal from pole position, the first time the Turk has managed the feat in his career.

Redding came down first, the Ducati rider - tipped as a hot favourite for pole after dominating all three practice sessions - losing the rear of his bike on the exit of Turn 6 as he wound up for his first fast lap. Flicking him into a nasty looking high-side, though he was able to pick himself up, it was a forlorn figure gingerly making his way behind the barriers.

However, just seconds later it was Rea also finding himself down and out when the Kawasaki’s front-end folded into Turn 4. Fortunately, Rea separated from the bike as he came down, with the ZX-10RR spiralling across the gravel trap sending marshals running for cover as it hit the barrier and - fortunately - landed back in the gravel trap.

With the red flags deployed - after Sylvain Barrier had also come down simultaneously at a different point in the circuit - the race was on at Ducati and Kawasaki to get the riders back out on a second bike. Under the current regulations, teams are allowed second bikes but they cannot be ‘good to go’ and must be partially constructed.

Coupled with the short 25mins session, it meant only Redding got back on track before the end but not in time to start a fast lap. However, while Redding had failed to set a time - leaving him last on the grid - Rea did manage to get one lap in before his crash, which was still good enough for 15th by the end of the session, keeping his title bid for today well on track.

Their misfortune paved the way for someone else to steal the limelight, with Razgatlioglu breaking his long-awaited qualifying duck with a superb lap some seven tenths up on his closest rival.

That came in the form of, somewhat surprisingly, Leon Haslam, who having been in and around the cusp of the top ten so far this weekend fired in a brilliant lap to secure Honda’s first front row start of the season.

Similarly, the increasingly confident Garrett Gerloff was in fine form too, placing his GRT Junior Yamaha on the front row in third position.

With his average qualifying results seemingly a factor in the decision to drop him from the factory Ducati line-up in 2021, Chaz Davies turned into a timely season’s best with fourth, albeit only just ahead of the rider who will replace him in the factory team next year - Michael Ruben Rinaldi - in fifth.

Michael van der Mark couldn’t match his Pata Yamaha team-mate in sixth, even if he was only a tenth down on second position, while Alex Lowes couldn’t make amends for Kawasaki in Rea’s absence in seventh place.

Alvaro Bautista consolidated Honda’s surprise turn of form with eighth place, while Xavi Fores - in his final race for Puccetti Kawasaki - secured ninth spot. Qualifying expert Tom Sykes couldn’t bring the BMW any higher than tenth.

Wild-card Jonas Folger has some work to do from 11th position, though he fared better than Loris Baz, who threw his chances of pole away with a crash at the uphill chicane.

 

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