Jonathan Rea was over half-a-second clear in free practice yesterday at Portimao in Portugal as the reigning World Superbike champion put down a marker ahead of Saturday's opening race.
The Kawasaki rider topped the times in FP1 before upping his pace in the afternoon, lapping in 1m 42.621s as he finished 0.586 seconds faster than Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Ducati) in second place.
Final practice and Superpole qualifying takes place ahead of race one (3pm UK time) on Saturday, but Rea has already fired a warning shot as he bids to extend his championship lead of 70 points even further.
The Ulster rider said: “It was so windy at times today, even more in the afternoon session than the morning. We have not made a huge amount of changes to the bike because there is a lot more I can change in my riding style here, simply because the track is so challenging.
“Where you put your bodyweight, how you brake, how you accelerate, are key around here. So I came in after a few laps and said to my crew chief Pere Riba, ‘let’s put some tyres in and I will go and make a long run. I’m sure I will be able to learn something for tomorrow’.”
Melandri’s team-mate Chaz Davies was third fastest ahead of Leon Camier on the MV Agusta, while Tom Sykes was fifth as the Yorkshireman failed to better his time from FP1.
Sykes is Rea’s nearest challenger in the title race, 70 points behind his team-mate, and will be aiming to reduce the deficit over the weekend if he’s to keep his fading title hopes alive.
Eugene Laverty was sixth on the Milwaukee Aprilia ahead of Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes and Lorenzo Savadori (Milwaukee Aprilia).
Portimao is one of Toome rider Laverty’s favourite tracks and the 31-year-old says his target is to finish on the podium today.
Laverty said: “The first practice was really difficult; the bike didn’t feel correct or as good as it did when we tested here in January. But we knew the direction we had to go in and the afternoon practice was much better.
“We’re in that top six marker group, a step behind the front guys, and we need to keep pursuing the direction we found today. I really want to make that big next step as we’ve been building with this progress for a few rounds.
“We’ve been working hard to get the most out of the tyres since Pirelli changed them slightly after Laguna Seca, and that is a important area to focus on,” he added.
“The podium is certainly a target for Race One tomorrow, but it will be tough and we need to make sure we have a good qualifying first.”