Champion Rea gets set to strike back as Sykes hits the heights
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) ended yesterday's free practice sessions at the eighth round of the World Superbike Championship at Donington Park in fourth, albeit a mere seven one hundredths of a second behind fastest man Tom Sykes.
Second fastest was Yamaha's Alex Lowes, who bounced back from a first session crash at Craner Curve, 0.018secs behind the Yorkshireman with Turkish up and coming rider Toprak Razgatlioglu (Kawasaki) third fastest despite a slow speed crash at Goddard's in the closing moments of the second session.
Ulster's four-time World Champion Rea, down in eighth after session one, worked his way back in the second outing of the day in what was a topsy-turvy session in which the top 13 riders were covered by less than a second going into today's qualifying and first 23-lap race.
Alvaro Bautista (Ducati) - who leads Rea by just 16 points in the championship chase - ended the day sixth fastest but the Spaniard, who is riding a 'big bike' for the first time at the East Midlands track, found 1.2secs between the two sessions yesterday and will be a threat in the races.
Eugene Laverty completed both sessions on his return to action after almost six weeks recuperation from fractures in both wrists but really struggled in the heavy braking end to every lap and finished the day 2.6secs off the pace in 18th position.
Peter Hickman, riding the SMR factory BMW alongside Sykes, was 12th fastest, 0.834secs behind Sykes.
British Supersport Championship leader Jack Kennedy finished the day eighth fastest in the Supersport class as a wild card despite a slip-off at Goddard's mid-way through the second session while Eunan McGlinchey (Kawasaki Ninja 400) was ninth fastest in his group after the Supersport 300 practice sessions.
Meanwhile Derek Sheils (BE-RK Suzuki) will start favourite for 'big bike' honours at the Loughshinny Club Country Crest Skerries 100 tomorrow.
Sheils has a healthy 43-point lead over Thomas Maxwell in the Irish Superbike Road Race Championship after his double at Kells, Co Meath last month.
Derek McGee, injured in a crash in practice during the Isle of Man TT, is contemplating a return to action at Skerries but Sheils' main competition may come from local resident Michael Sweeney while double Enniskillen winner Forest Dunn's confidence will be high after his debut victories on the Irish roads and could well fill a podium position, as will Maxwell and Kevin Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick leads the Supersport Championship by 10 points from Ballymoney's Darryl Tweed with McGee in third. With Paul Jordan a doubtful starter following his huge high side at Anglesey last weekend, in which he injured a hand and suffered a battering after coming back to the tarmac, this could well be the race of the day with Sweeney and Dunn in the mix.
On the smaller bikes, Gary Dunlop goes for three wins on the trot in the Moto3 class, riding Joey's Bar MCC M3 Honda.
Dunlop has a two-point championship lead over Oldcastle ace Fitzpatrick, who rides a 125GP Honda, with newcomer Sam Grief on Paul Robinson's M3 Honda sure to be in contention.
Roads close today at 12noon for practice and qualifying and tomorrow at 8am ahead of racing, scheduled to start at 10am.