Apr 27, 2001
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By Glenn LeSanto<BR><BR>James Whitham is not known for qualifying on the front row, his indifferent qualifying form and subsequent bad grid positions have a lot to do with his propensity to crash early in the race, usually while playing catch up to the race leaders. But if Friday's showing at Sugo during timed qualifying is anything to go by he may have pulled something out of the bag to put that nightmare behind him. Despite riding with a sprained wrist Whitham outpaced the rest of <BR>the World Supersport pack in qualifying with a time of 1:33.194, nearly half-a-second faster <BR>than his Belgarda Yamaha teammate Paolo Casoli's 1:33.597. Casoli's top speed was recorded at 235.3 kph (146.2 mph) against Whitham's 224.4 kph (139.4 mph), indicating that Whitham was making his speed up on the corners, useful at a track like Sugo, which is all twists and turns.<BR><BR>After the session Whitham was his usual humorous self, "Better make the most of it, it won't last!" he joked. When asked what was different today he replied, "We put on a qualifier and I just tucked in behind Paolo (Casoli)." His left wrist, damaged in his Phillip Island spill, had settled down considerably. "At first I thought it was broken," explained Whitham. "It swelled up so much I couldn't get my watch on. But within a few days it had settled down again. I had an X-ray in Australia but they couldn't see anything broken, but then you often can't with a wrist injury."<BR><BR>Phillip Island winner Kevin Curtain, the joint Championship leader, didn't figure in the top 10 times, and his 1:34.470 put him back in 13th in the order. He put this down to problems with his suspension. "We've got a problem with the front end," explained the Australian who, rides for the BKM Honda team. "We are having trouble rectifying it. So, at the moment I can't go much faster without throwing it up the road. We were trying different things and the qualifying tire is working very good but the front suspension problems remained. We still have another day to make it work better over these bumps which probably would give us another second".<BR><BR>Pere Riba, star of the Valencia round and current co-leader in the series along with Curtain, was third-fastest in the session on the Ten Kate Honda CBR600F4i, and his teammate Fabien Foret was fifth-quickest, just behind Pier Bontempi. <BR><BR>The conditions were a welcome contrast to last week's Phillip Island round, with strong sunshine and a light breeze.<BR><BR>Friday's World Supersport qualifying times:<BR>1. James Whitham, GB (Yamaha) 1:33.194<BR>2. Paolo Casoli, Italy (Yamaha) 1:33.597<BR>3. Pere Riba, Spain (Honda) 1:33.737<BR>4. Piergiorgio Bontempi, Italy (Yamaha) 1:33.838<BR>5. Fabien Foret, France (Honda) 1:33.852<BR>6. Fabrizio Pirovano, Italy (Suzuki)1:33.998<BR>7. Jorg Teuchert, Germany (Yamaha) 1:34.126<BR>8. Katsuaki Fujiwara, Japan (Suzuki) 1:34.214<BR>9. Iain MacPherson, GB (Kawasaki) 1:34.230<BR>10. Andrew Pitt, Australia (Kawasaki) 1:34.338<BR>17. Chris Vermeulen, Australia (Honda) 1:34.837.