2001 champion Troy Bayliss made a perfect return to World Superbike action at Losail today when the Ducati Xerox superstar powering to the top of the timesheets in the opening qualifying session of 2006, in Qatar.
Both the morning's free practice session and afternoon qualifying were held in wet and rainy conditions at the desert circuit, but the 36 year-old Australian was in terrific form on his factory 999 and ended the session a full 1.7 seconds ahead of second-placed Régis Laconi (now at Kawasaki). Reigning world champion Troy Corser, of Alstare Suzuki, was third.
"I'm not surprised to be up at the front to be honest," declared Troy, "and I'm really pleased with the way it went because it was the first time I've tried the Pirelli wets and I was happy with them. The bike worked well and we're still using the basic set-up we've had since testing started. I expected to go a little bit faster before the end when we had an intermediate in the rear.
"Maybe it would have been OK if I had stayed out longer but I didn't give it enough chance and put a harder rain tyre on which wasn't quite as good as what I did two-thirds through the session. But all in all it turned out well and I hope we're finished with the rain for this weekend and can move on to some dry weather," he added.
Meanwhile, Bayliss's team-mate Lorenzo Lanzi - who preferred not to go out in the morning's free practice session - was not entirely at ease in today's wet and slippery conditions. The Italian recorded a time of 2min 26.171secs, which put him in a provisional 27th slot.
"I didn't want to push too hard on the first day," declared Lorenzo, "because I'm pretty sure tomorrow it will be dry. I know that's not much of an excuse because we're in a world championship and so you should be present in all conditions, but it was the first day and I didn't want to crash or do anything silly.
"It was difficult out there, you could lap quicker in the wet than on the damp track so I started off slowly just to check the conditions. Then when I began to push harder the track dried and it was slippery to the point that virtually no one was able to improve in the final part of the session.
"The other guys went out in the morning session and I didn't so I wasn't quite on the pace today but tomorrow for sure I will be present," he concluded.