Qualifying at Laguna Seca was in unsurprisingly glorious Californian weather, with the dry lake bowl providing the usual entertainment, in spite of there being no long straights on the short, but exceedingly popular, track. With the Corkscrew getting the column inches, the last turn, the first gear turn 11, is the one that catches most people out, and it caught a rider out in Superpole Two.
Tom Sykes once again demonstrated that there is nobody better with a rear qualifier on, setting a new lap record and leading the field by over half a second. On a track where it was thought the Aprilias and Ducatis would do best, Sykes reminded everyone that he's the man in charge of the title, and heading into the summer break with an increased lead could be a title decider.
A man with fewer wins but intense consistency, one of only two men to have scored points in each race, Sylvain Guintoli starts from the front row on the fast Aprilia, between Sykes and Chaz Davies. As the track is one that's difficult to pass on, a front row start is what Guintoli needs to maintain pressure on Sykes, and with Loris Baz and Jonathan Rea starting from the third and fourth row respectively, he could increase the gap behind him, as long as he takes the risks he has done in every race he's challenged for the win in.
Chaz Davies is on the front row for the second race in a row, but this time it's on a track that has traditionally suited the Ducati's design philosophy and one where Davies has had great results in the past. He has had good qualifying pace on race tyres, so once again, hope rises for the Panigale's first victory. The lack of outright speed required to do well here, plus the corner speed that is required, Davies in third and Davide Giugliano in fourth could easily be battling for podiums.
Marco Melandri, having buried the hatchet with Sylvain Guintoli, is, for all practical intents, out of the title chase. While he might not be done winning, he is too many points behind to make a late charge, and adapting to the Aprilia has been tougher than he'd like to admit, especially on the qualifying tyre, which has put him at a constant handicap on tracks where overtaking isn't as easy. Still, he is one of the better starters in Superbike racing, and he has decent settings for a race tyre.
Melandri's old Yamaha teammate Eugene Laverty starts from sixth place but he's been struggling with a full bike at the beginning of races. If he loses touch with the leading pack at the start, his chances are gone on this track. No matter how quick you are, if the rider in front can make their bike wide, there are very few safe passing places if you don't have a proper quick bike.
In seventh place, another rider who knows what it's like riding a slow bike, Leon Haslam has out qualified Jonathan Rea on the Honda. Rea was the victim of a turn eleven crash, dropping him to tenth, three places behind Haslam. Between them are Loris Baz and Toni Elias.
Fabien Foret will not appear on the grid as neither he nor his team didn't bother to fly to the US, but the grid was filled back out by an additional EBR that qualified as well as the EBRs usually do. Leon Camier also returns to the grid, this time replacing Claudio Corti on the MV Agusta, a bike whose stunning aesthetics are vastly improved since being dropped by Yakhnich.
Laguna Seca has always given us entertaining racing, but for once, we are lacking Americans that can stir things up, with no wild cards from the struggling AMA series, reduced to just seven races this year, able to compete due to tyre differences. You can't race in the Pirelli-shod series wearing Dunlops.
Correction: There are indeed two AMA racers who have swapped AMA Pro Superbike duties for the World Superbike. Larry Pegram, who qualified in 23rd place, and Chris Ulrich, who qualified in 26th.