Rea on top of Friday practice at WSBK Aragon

Honda rider leads balanced first day of practice for World Superbike field in Spain, with Kawasaki’s Sykes second, Ducati’s Davies third

Graeme Brown

The initial clues that the 2014 WSBK championship would be a balanced, hard-fought affair, received confirmation after the first two free practice sessions in Aragon, which hosts the second round. In Australia, Suzuki, Aprilia, Kawasaki and Ducati had already shown their prowess. In Spain, Honda joined the ranks of top contenders with Jonathan Rea, who topped both Friday sessions and closed with a best lap of 1:58.180.

"I’m quite satisfied with today," Rea said. "It’s been a really good start to the weekend. We’ve got quite a good base already, but I still need to work quite a lot on optimizing our engine braking. The last time we were here it was quite good, but maybe a change in conditions has thrown some other issues into the mix. We need to do a long run tomorrow morning to work with a cooler race-one temperature in mind. We’ve got two rear options to check, then I’ll get ready for Superpole."

While Rea was able to post a few scorching laps, reigning world champion Tom Sykes showed the best pace, recording 11 passages in the 1'58 mark during FP2. The Aprilia duo comprised of Marco Melandri and Sylvain Guintoli worked along similar lines, evaluating tire wear during the afternoon session and taking the rear to full race distance.

Aprilia's Marco Melandri was quite pleased with practice on Friday, despite being 0.721 seconds down on leader Rea and ending up seventh on the timesheets.

"It's been a positive day, perhaps the best ever since I joined Aprilia," said Melandri, who was seventh overall, 0.721 seconds behind Rea. "We got a pretty good idea of our potential over the entire race length. My feeling on the bike improved, as well as my chemistry with the team. The bike behaves in a more predictable way, even though we can still improve in the first three turns. We're not at our 100 percent, but we're getting close."

The Spanish track, which features a mile-long straight, had put a strain on twin-cylinder bikes in the past. The third time posted by Chaz Davies (0.395 seconds slower than Rea), however, indicates that competition is now more balanced among the different engineering philosophies on track.

Although showing good speed that put him third on the timesheets, Chaz Davies was looking for more feedback and stability from his Ducati Panigale superbike.

"We were a little faster in the afternoon," said the Welshman, who won the last two races in Aragon. "But, I'd still like to improve our front-end feeling, I'd like to have more stability. That said, today was positive. I'm in a good position and, while the bike is still not giving me the feedback I'd like, we posted competitive lap times and can work more optimistically toward the Sunday races."

A different fate befell Team EBR, whose riders Aaron Yates and Geoff May (still recovering from a fractured collarbone) closed in twenty-fifth and twenty-seventh position respectively.

Team EBR's Aaron Yates was down in 25th spot at Aragon on Friday.

"I am happy with the progress that we made in today’s sessions," Yates analyzed. "There was a big gap since Phillip Island and we have been working hard. I feel more comfortable on the bike and am happy to be back racing. Of course we still have a lot of work to do but we are moving in the right direction and we are all confident that over the coming races we will see big improvements, starting I hope tomorrow.”

“I will be pushing hard to make the Superpole tomorrow but for sure that’s the aim," added May. "We will find some direction tomorrow and I am sure that we can improve tomorrow and again in the race. The track is great and I like riding it. The whole team and all my mechanics are working hard so thanks to them. We will get there.”

In the first two free practice sessions, Bimota also made its WSBK debut with team Alstare despite not having yet received homologation from FIM. The manufacturer has now four months to produce the 125 bikes required to be able to score points in the championship. The BB3, which features a BMW S1000RR engine fitted on a custom trellis frame, somewhat surprised its counterparts, climbing until seventeenth position with Ayrton Badovini, who was 3.283 seconds off the pace.

"I believe the 125 bikes will be ready before the due time," said Alstare Team Manager Francis Batta. "The recent changes to homologation were made by Dorna and FIM in the interest of the whole sector, which is facing a global crisis, not just us. They surely didn't give us a free pass to race. They asked proof of purchase and payment of the necessary components. In total, this project involves about 150 people. We're serious about this."

Beyond Bimota's, the first European race will also mark the debut of a new TV format, which moves race one at 10.30 a.m. (it was usually scheduled at noon in the past) local time, making it even more imperative for riders not to fall during the warm-up or in between races. Under the single-bike rule – which only allows teams to keep the so-called "rolling chassis" in the boxes (a semi-mounted bike, usually with only the frame and suspensions installed while engine, airbox and brakes must be fitted if necessary) – a crash would challenge the mechanics to rebuild an entire functioning bike in the little time between the Sunday races (less than two hours).

World Superbike Aragon Friday practice results:

Pos. Rider Country Machine Time
1. Jonathan Rea (GBR) Honda 1:58.180
2. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki 1:58.417
3. Chaz Davies (GBR) Ducati 1:58.575
4. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki 1:58.579
5. Davide Giugliano (ITA) Ducati 1:58.717
6. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Aprilia 1:58.900
7. Marco Melandri (ITA) Aprilia 1:58.901
8. Eugene Laverty (IRL) Suzuki 1:58.971
9. Leon Haslam (GBR) Honda 1:59.103
10. Niccolo Canepa (ITA) Ducati 1:59.861
11. Alex Lowes (GBR) Suzuki 2:00.309
12. Toni Elias (SPA) Aprilia 2:00.480
13. Claudio Corti (ITA) MV Agusta 2:00.749
14. Leon Camier (GBR) BMW EVO 2:00.966
15. David Salom (SPA) Kawasaki EVO 2:01.032
16. Jeremy Guarnoni (FRA) Kawasaki EVO 2:01.076
17. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) Bimota EVO 2:01.463
18. Fabian Foret (SPA) Kawaski EVO 2:01.511
19. Sheridan Morias (RSA) Kawasaki EVO 2:01.801
20. Imre Toth (HUN) BMW EVO 2:02.672
21. Christian Iddon (GBR) Bimota EVO 2:02.709
22. Michel Fabrizio (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 2:02.716
23. Luca Scassa (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 2:03.138
24. Alessandro Andreozzi (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 2:03.339
25. Aaron Yates (USA) EBR 2:04.075
26. Peter Sebestyen (HUN) BMW EVO 2:05.570
27. Geoff May (USA) EBR 2:05.593