WSBK Imola: Rea leads Sykes in abbreviated afternoon session

Numerous red flag interruptions force race officials to call off remaining portion of afternoon session, preventing riders from going for fast times

A broken drainage cover wreaked havoc during the second WSBK free practice session in Imola (Italy). After several red-flag interruptions, race direction finally decided to call it quits when about twelve minutes were left on the clock, preventing the riders to perform the usual time attack. Thus, Friday's time sheets are to be read with caution. However, some clues can still be gathered ahead of tomorrow's Superpole.

The first, some would say obvious, is that Tom Sykes is still the man to beat on a flying lap. The reigning world champion on Kawasaki only took three laps in the afternoon to improve by almost one second since the first session. However, Jonathan Rea (Honda) proved to be the quickest with a 1:48.147.

Kawasaki's Tom Sykes was second quickest on Friday at Imola, but what the times don't show is that it only took him three laps to set that time due to the numerous red flag interruptions.

"Our bike is clearly working quite well here, but we still need to make some improvements, especially getting the power down off the slower corners and final turning with engine brake," Rea analyzed. "But, for our first day we’ve got to be happy because our pace is OK. The ultimate lap time I didn’t think was very fast compared to the race or the test here last year. But the track is quite fresh and there’s not a lot of rubber down. Tomorrow, when the track gets a bit more rubbered-in, I think you’ll see a quicker pace."

At the moment, it is not possible to make any predictions about the first grid, or the race. The first five riders are within a tenth of a second. Besides Rea and Sykes, however, Marco Melandri's return to the top was far from assured. The Italian, who posted the third best time and was finally faster – though by a narrow margin – than his teammate Sylvain Guintoli (fourth) after two sub-par races in Holland, took advantage of his home track and minor – but seemingly relevant – upgrades to the chassis and electronics of his Aprilia RSV4 to regain some much needed confidence.

After struggling in the previous three races, Marco Melandri is feeling much more at home on the Aprilia RSV4 superbike, ending up third quickest on Friday at Imola.Fabrizio Porrozzi

"I'm very happy, today marked a new beginning for me," Melandri said. "I'm much more comfortable on the bike and finally able to ride smoothly. We've worked a lot for the race to evaluate tire wear and electronic strategies. We'll continue on this path tomorrow, with an eye toward pure speed as we need to score a good position in Superpole. It's difficult to overtake here. That said, our base is already competitive."

In fifth position, 0.182 seconds behind, Davide Giugliano (Ducati) was the only top rider unable to improve during FP2. The Roman did not have time put a new rear tire in the afternoon session, focusing on wear over race distance. Nonetheless, he closed the day only 0.182 seconds behind with a pace in the mid 1:48s, and is likely to be a protagonist in tomorrow's qualifying session on a track where he historically performed strongly.

Ducati's Davide Giugliano was the only top rider unable to improve upon his morning practice time, but he was still only 0.182 seconds behind the leader.Fabrizio Porrozzi

"To be so fast on a used tire leaves me hopeful," Giugliano said. "So far, everything went as planned. I just hope to keep it up. I think there are at least five guys who can make the difference during the race. Sykes, Melandri, Rea and even my teammate Davies are in great shape. And we shouldn't underestimate the Suzukis as well."

Speaking of the GSX-R, Eugene Laverty was only eighth after suffering electronic issues with the engine braking setup in the morning, where he was able to record only one flying lap. His teammate Alex Lowes, who just scored his maiden podium in Assen, was forced out of the top 10 by Leon Camier (BMW), who led the EVO class in tenth overall position. The rookie is still trying to get to grips with the prototype swingarm brought by FTR, and will run a comparative test on Monday (together with all the other teams) after the race to decide whether to go back to the standard component.

World Superbike Imola Friday practice results:

Pos. Rider Country Machine Time
1. Jonathan Rea (GBR) Honda 1:48.147
2. Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki 1:48.187
3. Marco Melandri (ITA) Aprilia 1:48.261
4. Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Aprilia 1:48.323
5. Davide Giugliano (ITA) Ducati 1:48.329
6. Chaz Davies (GBR) Ducati 1:48.592
7. Leon Haslam (GBR) Honda 1:48.999
8. Eugene Laverty (IRL) Suzuki 1:49.259
9. Loris Baz (FRA) Kawasaki 1:49.600
10. Leon Camier (GBR) BMW EVO 1:49.610
11. Alex Lowes (GBR) Suzuki 1:49.710
12. Ivan Goi (ITA) Ducati EVO 1:49.920
13. Niccolo Canepa (ITA) Ducati 1:50.015
14. David Salom (SPA) Kawasaki EVO 1:50.103
15. Ayrton Badovini (ITA) Bimota EVO 1:50.228
16. Toni Elias (SPA) Aprilia 1:50.370
17. Christian Iddon (GBR) Bimota EVO 1:50.609
18. Luca Scassa (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 1:50.926
19. Claudio Corti (ITA) MV Agusta 1:51.034
20. Michel Fabrizio (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 1:51.357
21. Alessandro Andreozzi (ITA) Kawasaki EVO 1:51.544
22. Jeremy Guarnoni (FRA) Kawasaki EVO 1:51.572
23. Fabian Foret (SPA) Kawaski EVO 1:51.581
24. Sheridan Morias (RSA) Kawasaki EVO 1:51.707
25. Imre Toth (HUN) BMW EVO 1:52.445
26. Geoff May (USA) EBR 1:54.669
27. Peter Sebestyen (HUN) BMW EVO 1:55.102
28. Aaron Yates (USA) EBR 1:56.225