Despite lapping well off his record-setting laps of a year ago -- a fact he attributed primarily to a change in available tire selections -- Hayes led the way with a fast time of 2:13.355.
Following his Daytona double DNF, the reigning triple champ is in need of a big weekend here in Wisconsin.
"It's going okay," Hayes said. "I'm feeling like it's been a little bit of a tough day -- I feel a little rusty. But for the most part, I'm happy I'm riding a motorcycle; it's been a long time.
"This is usually a good track for me. I usually get up to speed a bit quicker. But usually we're usually four or five races into the season before we get here. This is a pretty tough one to come here and go fast right off the bat with all the long straightaways and you have to be pretty pinpoint with all your brake markers. I guess it's taking me a little longer than I'd like to get rolling, but all in all, it's going good. We're still a small step ahead of the rest of the guys. We'll keep plugging away."
During last year's stop at Road America, Hayes went virtually unchallenged; besides posting a perfect points weekend by claiming pole, leading the most laps in both races, and earning the double win, Hayes was the fastest man in every single practice, qualifying session, and race, by more than a second per lap.
As Hayes hinted, that was not the case on Friday. Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing's Martin Cardenas threw down a fast lap of 2:13.776 late in qualifying today to move within 0.421 seconds of Hayes' best time.
The reigning GoPro Daytona SportBike champ has already collected a win and a runner-up result this season and is quickly establishing himself as a serious SuperBike title contender.
Like Hayes, National Guard Jordan Suzuki's title hopeful, Roger Hayden, comes into Road America looking to make up for a less-than-ideal opener. The Kentuckian got off to a strong start on Friday, clocking the third best time at 2:14.503.
A further 0.130 seconds adrift is early-season points leader, Josh Herrin. The #2 Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha ace rounds out the provisional front row in his first day back in official action following his breakthrough Daytona performance.
The provisional second row is headed by yet another Yamaha-mounted rider. Larry Pegram, who scored two podiums in the season opener, was fifth best on the Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing Yamaha R1. He was followed on the charts by Jordan Suzuki's Danny Eslick, Cardenas' Yoshimura teammate, Chris Clark, and Team Hero's Geoff May on the EBR 1190RS.
Motosport.com Motul Fly Racing's David Anthony and KTM/HMC Racing's Chris Fillmore round out the day's top 10.
The final grid positions will be decided Saturday morning ahead of the afternoon's 13-lap National Guard SuperBike contest.
Yamaha Extended Service/Monster Energy/Graves/Yamaha pilot Cameron Beaubier earned provisional pole for the GoPro Daytona SportBike class on Friday. The DAYTONA 200 winner was quickest in both of the day's sessions and the Californian was the only rider to break the 2:20-mark on the historic 4.05-mile circuit with a time of 2:19.908.
"After practice, I was expecting to get a little lower on my times," Beaubier said. "It didn't happen. I did three or four of those laps but I couldn't get to the next step of lowering my lap times. I'm happy with that, though, and we'll see if the weather is good tomorrow and try to improve it."
The battle behind Beaubier heated up late in the session. Jake Gagne of the RoadRace Factory/Red Bull squad earned second, just ahead of Dane Westby (GEICO Honda) and J.D. Beach, who made it two RoadRace Factory pilots on the provisional front row. Westby, after being injured in a practice crash at Daytona, appeared fully recovered in Wisconsin and was able to make his mark on Friday.
Stefano Mesa earned provisional pole in Friday afternoon's AMA Pro Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport session. Mesa, a winner last season at Road America, joined the Motosport.com/RS Racecraft squad for this event and was able to set the best lap time of 2:24.275. Mesa won earlier this year at Daytona and the Colombian showed he will be a contender again this weekend.
Corey Alexander (National Guard/Celtic Racing) followed on Mesa's tail, followed by a surprising Ricardo Valdez (Southeast Sales) and Baby Appleseed/CM Motorsport's Jeffrey Tigert.
This weekend will mark the debut of GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing's television broadcasts on CBS Sports Network as part of the CBS Sports Spectacular. This weekend's coverage will begin Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. PT with an all-new weekend Preview Show, followed by GoPro Daytona SportBike Race 1 at 3:00 p.m. ET/12:00 noon PT and then LIVE coverage of National Guard SuperBike Race 1 at 4:00 p.m. ET/1:00 p.m. PT.
CBS Sports Network will pick back up on Sunday, June 2 at 3:00 p.m. ET/12:00 noon PT with GoPro Daytona SportBike Race 2 before the National Guard SuperBike Race 2 is aired LIVE at 4:00 p.m. ET/1:00 p.m. PT. Fans can find CBS Sports Network on their TV by using the channel finder at http://www.cbssportsnetwork.com/channel-finder.
In addition to the live broadcasts on CBS Sports Network, AMA Pro Live will be live streaming multiple channels of behind-the-scenes video of the weekend's activities alongside Live Timing & Scoring. AMA Pro Live puts fans in the director's chair, allowing them to choose from a variety of viewpoints including track cameras, paddock cameras and a press conference channel.
AMA Pro Live will also feature production-quality streaming coverage of Sunday's National Guard SuperBike warm-up session (Sunday, June 2 at 10:30 a.m. ET/7:30 a.m. PT) and Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport Race 2 (Sunday, June 2 at 11:15 a.m. ET/8:15 a.m. PT). AMA Pro Live can be accessed from any computer, mobile device or tablet at http://www.amaprolive.com.
--From AMA Pro Racing