Rea sets Superbike pace at Jerez as Laverty gets to grips with his new Aprilia
Double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea picked up where he left off last season by topping the timesheets on the opening day of testing for the 2017 campaign at Jerez in Spain, on a day when fellow Ulsterman Eugene Laverty's Milwaukee Aprilia team launched their all-new factory-supported Aprilia RSV4 RF machinery.
Speaking at the launch of his UK-based team, run by Shaun Muir's SMR squad, the Monaco-based Laverty said: "I've had two months out of the saddle, so now I'm looking forward to getting back on the bike to see what it can do.
"It was useful to ride the bike in November before the New Year to get a feel for it and now we get to ride the new RSV4 RF, which is my 2017 race bike."
There was no dream start for Laverty, who would be the first to admit there's going to be a gargantuan amount of work to be done in the upcoming tests, prior to the opening round in just five weeks' time in Australia.
Some two seconds off Rea's pace on the factory Kawasaki, Laverty said pragmatically: "It took a bit of time to get re-dialled in, but we had a positive end to the day so now we know what we need for tomorrow."
Laverty openly stated that the usually nimble Aprilia was proving tough to stop and turn. He said: "The bike feels like it's pushing the front a lot. On a positive it's great being back on Aprilia electronics, as it works well with my style and lets me use my strengths again."
Clear blue skies greeted eight of this year's 11 WSB teams at Jerez, offering up perfect conditions. And as we have come to expect, it was again all green at the top of the timesheets with Rea's KRT team-mate and former World champion Tom Sykes second quickest, just 0.2 seconds down on the Ulsterman.
The intention at the two-day test, as explained by Rea's factory Kawasaki team, is to reconfirm recent developments with the ZX-10RR and to make final set-up direction choices, which will be used for real in the opening round of the Championship at Phillip Island in Australia on February 24 and 26.
Rea and KRT will return to Jerez for the final European winter test next week (February 1-2). Before then, Rea will make a quick return home to Northern Ireland for the Enkalon Motorcycle Awards. He will then fly back to Australia to take part in two final days of official Championship tests at Phillip Island (February 21 and 22) before the first round a week later.
As expected, Chaz Davies, who was third in last year's WSB Championship standings with 11 wins, was hanging onto the Kawasaki duo's coat tails aboard the 2017-specification Aruba.it Ducati Panigale R - just three tenths of a second down on Sykes.
Marco Melandri (Ducati), Alex Lowes (Yamaha) and Xavi Fores (Barni) rounded out the top six. Testing continues today.
Laverty will not show any signs of panic, but will certainly be hoping to start feeling at one with the Milwaukee Aprilia.