Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) sat at the top of the combined FP1 and FP2 timesheets with a 1’57.666 lap of the spectacular floodlit Losail International Circuit overnight.
The Northern Irishman’s best time on Thursday came in the earlier of the opening two practice sessions at the final round of the season as he sped around the desert track on his Kawasaki ZX-10RR and finished FP1 a 0.689s margin ahead of his closest rival and teammate Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team).
“Today went OK and I really enjoyed it. I just like this race meeting. The circuit is very nice, it has got a lot of challenges and riding under the light does not take much getting used to, but it is just different and exciting. We changed the balance of the bike quite a lot today, in the first session and between sessions, just searching for that last little bit of front stability. I was jumping between my normal race tyre and the SC2 to understand the front stability. We now need to analyse a few compromises. All-in-all I feel quite positive about today. FP3 will be important session for us tomorrow because so many riders are close in their pace.”
Rea was unable to improve in FP2 and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) closed the gap at the top of the combined timesheets to 0.259s as the fastest man in that session and the second quickest overall on Thursday.
Alex Lowes – P2
“Before the weekend, I was really looking forward to this round as it’s a track I really enjoy! The team got their first podium here last year as well, so it’s obviously a track that suits the Yamaha R1 too. I also feel like I am riding well at the moment, so it was a bit annoying to make a mistake right at the start of FP1 and miss about 45 minutes of the session, which was a shame because we missed out on some time to find the right setup. In FP2, I made a long run and felt quite good plus, after missing out on the time in FP1, there is a good chance we can make more improvements tomorrow. I really, really hope I can fight with the guys at the front during the race, as it has been a great year and I want to finish it as strongly as possible. FP2 was a very busy session and doing a race simulation in these temperatures is always hard work but it is all about putting in the effort in during practice so that you can reap the benefits come race day!”
FP2 was interrupted briefly after a technical problem at turn 10 for the day’s third best overall performer Sykes – which led to a red flag – but the riders were soon back in action after the track conditions were confirmed as safe for them to continue riding.
“We have found good speed today and finished in third place after improving our best time in the second session. The surface was not fantastic and I had expected some big improvements from the first session. I was happy and the performance of the bike, which has been good, but in FP2 it had a problem. It was such a shame because we lost some track time. There were two little set up things we wanted to try in preparation for tomorrow. The engine in the bike was being changed tonight anyway and we are already fairly well prepared for the race. I just wanted to do a little bit more fine tuning. Tyre selection is very clear for me.”
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) was fourth quickest and Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) also featured in the top five.
Chaz Davies – P4
“I’m pretty happy overall with how things went today. We’re sticking to the plan, working on the setup with a focus on tyre options, which we took to race distance. We managed to be pretty consistent, which is the most important thing ahead of the races, but we still miss something on fresh tires, especially in the first couple of sectors. We made some changes that turned out to be positive, we just didn’t have enough time to try one final step before doing the time attack. I’m confident about the direction we’re going in, we’re all pretty close and I’m looking forward to two fun races.”
At this weekend’s season-concluding round in Qatar Sykes and Davies will battle it out for the runners-up position in this year’s championship behind title winner Rea.
Michael van der Mark – P5
“We have had a good first day here in Qatar and I am very happy with my Pata Yamaha R1! To be honest, we had quite a good pace but we are still struggling a little bit, so we have some changes to make for tomorrow. Anyway, it was good to see how much the bike has improved again, every track we get to it is now competitive straight away. The bike was quick here last year and it was great to see with all the changes we have made this season that it was still quick here! I am happy with how today went but, for sure, we have a lot of work to do as I have a good one-lap pace, but we need to work on our consistency. One of the issues is grip, we managed to solve most of the problems by the end, but we are still searching for the perfect setup and we will work as hard as we can tomorrow to get it right!”
Xavi Fores (BARNI Racing Team), Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Jordi Torres (Althea BMW Racing Team), Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) and Laverty’s Aprilia teammate Lorenzo Savadori completed the top ten. Savadori crashed twice in FP2, first at turn 16 and then again at turn 14.
Marco Melandri – P7
“Despite the steps forward made recently, today was a bit more complicated than what we expected. The grip wasn’t bad at the beginning, but as humidity increased in FP2 we struggled with both the front and the rear. Now we’ll take a good look at the data to study some radical changes ahead of tomorrow. FP3 will crucial to this end. I’m confident we’ll get back the right feeling again before Superpole and Race 1”.
Red Bull Honda are eager to try and end a tumultuous season 2017 on a high note but are not off to the best start to the race weekend.
The standard bearers for the Dutch-based squad at this round Davide Giugliano and Jake Gagne were 16th and 17th, respectively.
Despite being unable to move up the timesheets between the two sessions, both riders managed to significantly improve their lap-times in the latter hour of action as they worked hard with their crews to improve the feeling with their Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade SP2 machine at this long, wide and beautifully flowing racetrack. Giugliano successfully tried new electronic settings, while for 24-year-old Gagne the priority was to get to grips with the new circuit – as well as to riding under artificial lighting.
Davide Giugliano – P16
“Today was a quite productive day! We tried some new electronic settings which I never tried before and that represent – at least for me – a little but positive step forwards. I was expecting to be a little quicker, but there’s still time to do some more work tomorrow. The good things is that the bike works very well chassis-wise, although we still need to do some more work with the electronics in order to improve our pace. I think things will be better tomorrow.”
Jake Gagne – P17
“I feel I got to grips with the track pretty quickly, but it was also a matter of getting use to riding under floodlights: it was kind of strange in the first two-three laps, but soon after that it was not a problem anymore – it’s just you and the track. We made a lot of progress today, with me simply having to get used to this bike again and learning my way around the track. Towards the end of FP2 we made a couple of changes to chassis and electronics, and I feel we’re heading in the right direction. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
WorldSBK 2017 – Qatar – Day One Combined Practice
Jonathan Rea Kawasaki Racing Team 1.57.666
Alex Lowes Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team +0.259
Tom Sykes Kawasaki Racing Team +0.299
WorldSSP: Mahias top of the pack on day one
Championship leader Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) the top man after FP2. The Frenchman was joined in the top three on the practice timesheets by compatriot Jules Cluzel (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) and Briton Luke Stapleford (Profile Racing).
Mahias shot to the top of the timing screens at the end of the second practice of the evening in Qatar, with a 2’01.316 putting him a significant 0.412s margin ahead of Cluzel, whilst Stapleford was 0.006s further adrift.
Federico Caricasulo (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team), Kyle Smith (GEMAR Team Lorini) and Anthony West (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) all featured in the top six, whilst the big news of the day was the return to action of Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing).
In FP1 Sofuoglu was back on track after that triple hip fracture he sustained in France just over one month ago, the Turkish rider putting in 17 laps on his Kawasaki ZX-6R and ending up seventh on the timesheet in the opening practice of the weekend despite a brief technical problem mid-session. He was given a medical check-up at the circuit in between FP1 and FP2 – then going on to finish seventh in the second session too. He will undergo another precautionary revision on Friday before FP3.
Sofuoglu needs to win Saturday’s race and for his rival Mahias to score only five or less points, or the defending World Champion needs to finish second and Mahias not to score at all, to lift what would be his sixth WorldSSP World title.
Thursday’s combined timesheets after FP2 saw Michael Canducci (Puccetti Racing Junior Team FMI), Niki Tuuli (Kallio Racing) and Christian Gamarino (BARDAHL EVAN BROS. Honda Racing) complete the top ten. Earlier in the evening Smith led the way in FP1 with a 2’02.743 lap, ahead of Mahias and Caricasulo.
There were crashes without serious consequence in FP2 for Christoffer Bergman (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda), Nacho Calero (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) and Lachlan Epis (Response RE Racing).
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