Champion Rea is pushing bold Bautista all the way
Jonathan Rea was edged out by Alvaro Bautista by 0.104 of a second on the first day of practice for the penultimate round of the World Superbike Championship around the dusty San Juan Villicum circuit in Argentina.
Five-time World Champion Rea set the fastest lap of the day, 1m 43.614sec, in the second session. The pair were over a second clear of Michael Rinaldi (Ducati) with just half a second covering the next eight riders.
The Spaniard made the most of the opportunity to head the field into this evening qualifying and first race.
Bautista, a newcomer to the 2.672mile circuit, put in 42 laps during the two sessions, while Rea - recently crowned champion for a record fifth successive time - limited himself to 24, the riders lapping some three and a half seconds slower than a year ago, due to dust and sand making the track slippery.
It was a difficult first day for Rea's fellow Ulsterman Eugene Laverty, languishing down in 19th position, as he struggled for grip with the Team Go Eleven Ducati.
Just 12 riders, mainly those who had not raced at the venue before, braved the difficult conditions in the first 20 minutes of session one with championship runner-up Bautista completing 20 laps on his Ducati and fastest on his debut, nine-tenths faster than Rea, who only completed six laps on his Kawasaki, running wide into the first turn on one of those.
Laverty completed eight laps and was one and three quarter seconds behind Bautista.
As predicted Alex Lowes was officially confirmed as moving to join Rea in the Kawasaki Racing Team next season, switching from Pata Yamaha.
He ended the day ninth fastest, while Leon Haslam - with no ride as yet for 2020 - was seventh fastest.
The opening race in Argentina is scheduled to start at 8pm UK time tonight with races two and three tomorrow.
The 2018 British Junior Supersport champion Eunan McGlinchey will return to the Sunflower Trophy meeting at Bishopscourt in a fortnight's time to pilot the McAdoo Kawasaki.
A year ago McGlinchey rode the Cookstown-based team's Supertwin and battled with Glenn Irwin and Jeremy McWilliams at the front of the field, resulting in two podiums and a new class lap record into the bargain.
He adds the McAdoo Supersport Kawasaki to his stable for the Sunflower.
The Foyle Club Sand Races on the East Strand, Portrush, take place today and tomorrow with racing starting this morning at 10.00am and tomorrow at 1.00pm.