He may be a rookie and on his first visit to Phillip Island, but that hasn’t stopped Briton Alex Lowes setting the fastest time in practice ahead of the opening round of the 2014 Superbike World Championship this Sunday.
Lowes put his Suzuki at the top of the timesheets in today’s second 45-minute practice session – first practice was virtually a non-affair due to inclement weather – and then stayed at the sharp end despite the usually flurry of fast laps at the end of proceedings.
It was a sensational ‘official’ world superbike debut for Lowes, but no huge surprise after he crafted together a pre-season that was full of speed and vigour.
“It was great to kick off my world superbike career in such a satisfying way, but it’s only Friday and I’m not getting too ahead of myself,” said Lowes, the twin brother of 2013 world supersport champion Sam Lowes.
“I actually felt more comfortable today than I did in recent timing – although the wind was keeping the times down – but I’ll sleep on things again tonight and see if we can make some even more improvements to the bike.
“I am still under no illusions that I am going to have to ride the best I ever have to get over these guys on Sunday.”
Lowes’ best lap was 1min31.100sec, only a fraction in fr0nt of Aprilia’s Marco Melandri (1:31.137), and then followed by Ducati’s Davide Guigliano (1:31.205) and Kawasaki’s world champion Tom Sykes (1:31.395) – four manufacturers sharing the spoils.
Australian pair Glenn Allerton (BMW, 1:33.118) and Matt Walters (Kawasaki, 1:35.810) — both 11th hour replacements for injured internationals – were 15th and 22nd respectively on their EVO-spec machines.
Allerton gave it a real shake, completing the session right behind the fastest EVO riders – Ducati’s Niccolo Canepa and Kawasaki pair David Salom and Fabien Foret.
There were two massive highside crashes in the session, with Sykes’ teammate Loris Baz coming unstuck at turn 12, and minutes later Chaz Davies was catapulted over his factory Ducati at turn nine. Both riders were unhurt, albeit a little bruised.
Jonathan Rea (Honda, 1:31.436) was fifth fastest from Eugene Laverty (Suzuki, 1:31.448), with less than second between the fastest 11 riders.
The top 20 riders classified after the opening three practice sessions – the third will be held at 9:45am tomorrow – will take part in Superpole at 3:00pm, which will determine final grid positions for Sunday’s two 22-lap races.
In world supersport, Turkey’s Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) has resumed front-running service ahead of Sunday’s 18-lap race.
After setting the fastest time in the final pre-season test at Phillip Island earlier this week, Sofuoglu was again the pacesetter as he set a best lap of 1:33.618, well ahead of second-placed British rider Kev Coghlan (Yamaha, 1:34.263).
While the session was productive for Sofuoglu, despite his bike expiring at turn one near the end of the 45-minute session, Australia’s big hope Bryan Staring (Honda) crashed at turn six and ended up 13th in the timesheets with a best lap of 1:35.109.
The crash was nuisance value for the ex-MotoGP rider from Perth, who was already playing catch-up on his competition after a brief pre-season on the CBR600RR – basically the two-day test at Philip Island on Monday and Tuesday.
“I was trying to improve the lap time with the new tyre when I lost the rear,” said Staring.
“The bike is okay, there isn’t much damage and I’m okay so we will come back tomorrow and keep trying. The test earlier in the week went well and we have consistency on our side, but we just need to find a little bit more.”
Another big-name to crash was Dutchman Michael van der Mark (Honda), who is expected to push Sofuoglu all the way in 2014.
Van der Mark (1:34.294) was fourth in practice two, behind Raffaele de Rosa (Honda, 1:34.277) and ahead of Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta, 1:34.337) and Patrick Jacobsen (Kawasaki, 1:34.366).
The two Aussie wildcards, Billy McConnell (Triumph) and Ryan Taylor (Yamaha), were 15th and 23rd respectively.
The third practice session will be held at 10:45am tomorrow, and then qualifying at 3:55pm.
Superbike Free Practice – Second Session
1. A. Lowes (Suzuki) 1’31.100 average 175.653 kph
2. M. Melandri (Aprilia) 1’31.137
3. D. Giugliano (Ducati) 1’31.205
4. T. Sykes (Kawasaki) 1’31.395
5. J. Rea (Honda) 1’31.436
6. E. Laverty (Suzuki) 1’31.448
7. L. Haslam (Honda) 1’31.533
8. L. Baz (Kawasaki) 1’31.637
9. C. Davies (Ducati) 1’31.757
10. S. Guintoli (Aprilia) 1’31.759
11. T. Elias (Aprilia) 1’32.073
12. N. Canepa (Ducati) 1’32.340
13. F. Foret (Kawasaki) 1’32.734
14. D. Salom (Kawasaki) 1’32.944
15. G. Allerton (BMW) 1’33.118
16. C. Corti (MV Agusta) 1’33.119
17. S. Morais (Kawasaki) 1’33.635
18. A. Andreozzi (Kawasaki) 1’33.996
19. J. Guarnoni (Kawasaki) 1’34.279
20. G. May (EBR) 1’34.640
21. I. Toth (BMW) 1’35.117
22. Walters (Kawasaki) 1’35.810
23. A. Yates (EBR) 1’36.338
NC. P. Sebestyen (BMW) 1’39.076.