Jonathan Rea out to step up to the Mark in Thailand
Reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea was conspicuous by his absence at the top of yesterday's free practice sessions during the opening exchanges at round two of the 2016 campaign in Thailand.
But if statistics are anything to go by, the factory Kawasaki pilot has nothing to worry about in Superpole qualifying and race one this morning, having topped all sessions 12 months ago with a double victory to boot.
Rea comes into round two with a 100 per cent record, having won both races during the season opener at Phillip Island just a fortnight ago. But he must keep one eye on his former employers Honda and their rising Dutch star Michael van der Mark, who topped FP2.
Composed and confident, as you would expect from a World champion, Rea said of his fifth place in FP2, with a time that was 0.6 seconds down on provisional pole man Van der Mark: "I made three long runs but the difficult part is that the tarmac is so dirty in some areas.
"I am happy we had almost a full race simulation but I had to come back to the pits with four laps to go, which was not ideal. Aside from the grip level I am enjoying riding here."
There is now just a single 15-minute session before Superpole 2 this morning (6.55am UK time), followed by the opening race of the weekend (9am) in the rescheduled format which now splits the two WSB over Saturday and Sunday.
"We did not have to change so much in Thailand last year from the bike set-up we brought from Phillip Island. It seems that although the track is completely different here, the Phillip Island settings work quite well again," added Rea, explaining the versatility of the championship winning ZX-10R Kawasaki.
Yesterday's free practice sessions determined which 10 riders made Superpole 2 this morning, with the remainder left to fight it out in the preceding Superpole 1 session, with the two fastest in that session afforded a second bite of the cherry in SP2.
The 15-minute Superpole 2 session then determined the front four rows of the grid for both races. Aussie Josh Brookes, the reigning British Superbike champion, narrowly missed out on an automatic Superpole 2 spot, finishing just outside the cut-off in 11th position.
The Milwaukee BMW rider made a solid return to the WSB paddock at Phillip Island with two top-10 finishes, but will have aspirations of infiltrating the top six this weekend, despite it being his first visit to the Thailand circuit.