Jonathan Rea tops practice in bid to build on World Superbike title lead at Misano
The seventh round of the World Superbike Championship takes place this weekend at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli near the Adriatic Coast of Italy, where current leader and defending champion Jonathan Rea is already on his way to add to his eight wins so far this season.
He topped Friday's combined practice timesheets with a 1'34.901 in the FP2 session. He's only 0.03s ahead of second fastest Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) with Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati) third.
The last round of racing at Donington Park showed the grit and determination the Kawasaki rider possesses after he bounced back from a 120mph crash on the Saturday to come from 10th place on the grid on Sunday to pulverise the field and take a well-deserved win. It helped him to open a 55-point lead in the series and gave the Japanese manufacturer their 100th WSB win.
After a recent test at Misano, Rea said: "After spending some time at home soaking up the TT atmosphere, I'm ready for the challenge of Misano, especially after our test there.
"We now have a good understanding of how the bike performs in different temperatures.
"We built a solid base focusing on conserving our tyre life and that gives me more confidence ahead of the racing this weekend."
It was at Misano that Rea took his first World Superbike win eight years ago, and he will start tomorrow and Sunday's action in the knowledge that he won both races at the Italian circuit last year, just ahead of team-mate Tom Sykes.
In fact, Rea and Sykes have won the last six WSB races at Misano (three each), while the latter has claimed pole position in each of his last five weekends here.
Rea's opposition will again come from Sykes and the Ducati duo of Chaz Davies and local hero Marco Melandri, with Milwaukee Aprilia rider Eugene Laverty looking for a change of fortune to kick-start what has been a difficult season for the Monaco-based Toomebridge competitor on his return to WSB after his MotoGP campaigns.
Welshman Davies and his Ducati team-mate Melandri are certainly capable of upsetting the Kawasakis, and with the Italian having spent a lot of his youth just an hour from the circuit - where he has done miles and miles of testing - he could well be the man taking the fight to Rea and Sykes over this weekend.
Davies' record around Misano isn't great, but to date he is the only rider to have burst the Kawasaki bubble having taken wins in race two at Aragon and then completing an Imola double. He is the only rider other than Rea and Sykes to have stood on the top step of the podium after this season's 12 races to date.
If Melandri were to win either race at the Italian circuit, he would secure Italy's 100th victory in World Superbike. He said: "I feel optimistic and refreshed after our test here.
"It will be very hot, so it will be a very difficult race for the riders. Misano is a good track for the Panigale, so I'm ready to battle for race wins."
Davies said: "I have had no luck here, the ball has not been bouncing my way as I crashed in race one and then got pushed off the track last year.
"Our recent test here was good and we have defined a couple of directions to try and that's where we'll start from in Free Practice One." It is hard to bet against Rea, however, the Ulsterman keen to build on his Championship advantage over the next four races before the WSB summer break.
• Moneymore based TAS Racing and Italian Davide Giugliano have amicably agreed to end their contract with immediate effect. This follows the determination that Davide's recovery from an injury sustained during free practice at the second round of the BSB Championship at Brands Hatch is more protracted than originally envisaged.
Team manager Philip Neill said: "It's with deep regret that the current circumstances have not allowed us to complete in the 2017 BSB Championship season with Davide, as we had very high hopes of producing a strong championship campaign. However the most important thing at this time is that Davide recovers fully from his injuries before deciding where his future lies."