Rea makes flying start to bid for historic fifth successive crown
Defending champion Jonathan Rea was second fastest on his Kawasaki, four one hundredths of a second behind provisional pole man and class rookie Alvaro Bautista (Ducati V4), after opening practice for the first round of the World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island in Australia.
Ulsterman Rea had been fastest in the first session of the day, 0.021sec ahead of the Spaniard, but in the closing stages of session two Bautista set a blistering lap of 1m 30.327secs to leapfrog Rea into first position.
Leon Haslam was third fastest while Ulsterman Eugene Laverty on his competitive debut for Team Goeleven Ducati V4 ended the day in 12th position, improving his time by almost seven 10ths of a second between FP1 and FP2, just over a second off Bautista in provisional pole, such was the pace of the opening day on Phillip Island.
Rea, going for a fifth successive world title, said: "A positive day. I'm proud of my guys because we rolled out with a completely fresh package based on our two-day test information and I'm happy with the result.
"Today was to understand tyres, so in FP1 we did a long run and put race distance on tyres in both sessions. Very clearly there was one package I preferred. I feel I have good race pace to fight for a podium, but we need a little more to race for the win."
Laverty said: "Quite satisfied with the progress. The most important thing is that we are continuing to improve. Our pace is consistent and that is particularly important during the second half of the race at Phillip Island."
The new Sprint Race and 22-lap second race are scheduled for the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Lee Johnston has ended speculation as to his 2019 racing plans by announcing he will compete under the all-new Ashcourt Racing banner.
The 30-year-old from Maguiresbridge, now based in Hull, will campaign BMW machinery in Superstock and Superbike at the three major international road races and a Yamaha R6 in Supersport events including the British Supersport Championship for the first time since 2011.
The Hull-based Ashcourt Group have joined forces with Johnston's long time sponsors East Coast Construction for the 2019 campaign and he said: "I'm really excited and it feels great to have the fire in my belly again. Although the last couple of years have been a bit up and down, I've got some fantastic sponsors behind me this year and I'm in the best position I've been in for a long time.
"I believe this environment and set-up suits me and I'm aiming to be consistently on the podium in the season ahead."
Meanwhile, Tides Restaurant situated between Black Hill and Juniper Chicane will sponsor the Thursday Supersport race at the fonaCAB International North West 200 in association with Nicholl Oils.
Proprietor Gareth Witherow said: "The North West 200 takes place on our doorstep and we want to be part of it.
"I've grown up in this area and have always been part of the event. I even sold programmes as a boy! The North West 200 is good for the North Coast area and for our business."