Rea keeping cool head as he closes in on breaking wins record
Triple world champion Jonathan Rea produced a late, late show at Donington Park yesterday during free practice for the sixth round of the World Superbike Championship to leapfrog Tom Sykes and take provisional pole position ahead of today's qualifying and first race.
Ulsterman Rea - who climbed above rival Sykes on his final lap - is this weekend aiming to better Carl Fogarty's record of 59 WSB wins, having moved level with him in Italy.
However, there is no room for complacency after a good start to the weekend. He said: "That's the first part completed, but tomorrow we have qualifying ahead of the opening race and I cannot afford to think too far ahead.
"Let's see what qualifying brings. I know there will be a lot of my home fans around the track - it would be nice to put on a show for them.
"The track conditions weren't perfect. It was only in the last session we got it dry, albeit just a dry line with no room for error. I feel okay with the bike but it is a compromise on gearing and the final free practice is important for our final preparations."
Kawasaki Racing Team duo Rea and Sykes dominated all three sessions yesterday, with the former leading the way on a drenched track in session one.
Dry lines appeared for the second session with Sykes taking the fastest lap with 1m 38.593sec, half a second clear of Rea.
Ulsterman Eugene Laverty was in 13th, two and a quarter seconds behind the Kawasakis. In the final 45-minute session on a dry track, Sykes looked to have sealed top spot with five minutes left on the clock with a 1m 28.207sec lap, only to see Rea set a scorching final effort of 1m 28.003sec.
Sykes was looking to do even better on his last lap, but lost time in the final sector.
Laverty had been in third position with five minutes remaining, but his Milwaukee Aprilia team-mate Lorenzo Savadori and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha) knocked the Toomebridge rider back to fifth.
Rea's closest challenger in the championship chase, Chaz Davies - who is 47 points back - crashed mid-session and ended in a lowly 16th.
In Supersport, Andrew Irwin (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) put in his best practice session of the season, finishing the day in eighth ahead of today's qualifying and tomorrow's race.
Meanwhile, TT practice commences this evening from 6.20pm, but without 23-time winner John McGuinness, the 45-year-old about a fortnight shy of being fit enough to race.
McGuinness said: "I'm gutted, but I hope to do some parade laps and I'll be watching the racing and cheering on my team-mate Josh Brookes."
Supersport competitors will get their first opportunity to sample the 37-mile Mountain Circuit, with Michael and William Dunlop, Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman, Dan Kneen, Conor Cummins, Lee Johnston and Ian Hutchinson the likely front runners in the class.
The 72nd Skerries 100 sponsored by Country Crest and Des D'Arcy Motors will change from a Friday-Saturday meeting to Saturday, July 7 and Sunday, July 8. There will be a 'Friends of Martin Finnegan' one-off Superbike race with the winner picking up €5,000 of a record €12,000 prize fund for this race, being held to honour the Lusk rider around the 10th anniversary of his death during the Tandragee 100.