Rea started Friday in Australia with long, consistent stints across both Friday practice sessions, while teammate Lowes was third
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) returned to the top of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship timesheets on Friday at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit as the Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round got underway to round out a memorable season of WorldSBK action. The six-time Champion finished a tenth clear of 2022 Champion Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) to claim top spot on Friday, while it was also a strong start for teammate Alex Lowes as he took third place at the scene of his last win in WorldSBK.
In Free Practice 1, Rea was top of the timesheets by just 0.022s ahead of Bautista as he posted a 1’31.284s, with Rea completing a very long stint for his first run. Rea’s longest stint in FP1 was 19 laps long, just three short of a full race distance at Phillip Island, with the vast majority of his laps in the 1’32s bracket while he put six 1’31s laps in. However, his best lap in that session came during his second run when he did two laps in a 1’31s; his last representative lap of the session his fastest.
Although he did not complete a stint as long as he did in Free Practice 1, Rea’s Free Practice 2 stints were of nine and 11 laps respectively. His best time in this session, and of the day, was a 1’31.127s on the final lap of his second stint. 15 of his timed laps in FP2 were in the 1’31s or 1’32s bracket as he put in two full sessions of consistent running as he set his stall out to return for winning ways. A victory during the Australian Round would end Rea’s win drought which started at the Estoril Round in May, the third round of the season.
Reacting to his strong pace, Rea said: “I really enjoyed the bike from Lap 1, the guys did a pretty good guesstimate at the setup. Phillip Island is quite a unique track because, with experience, the more you try at this circuit, sometimes the slower you go. I tried to start calmer, be smooth with the bike, not fighting the bike and things were working. I just tried to be very clear with my comments to my guys to make the bike setup changes between FP1 and FP2 and the bike was good. There are a few areas we really need to improve tomorrow. We’ll sit down tonight and analyse that to make things a little bit easier over a race distance. A little bit more turning is top of the agenda, and also throttle connection in some corners needs to be a little bit smoother. We have to be pretty satisfied.
“Like I said in the last races, we’ve been quite far from Alvaro and Toprak in terms of race time. At the end of the race, we’ve been struggling. My only target is just trying to be there at the end, keep consistent, give my 100% and if it’s possible to do well then so be it. I try not to worry about them. Alvaro’s already done his job this season and with Toprak we’re still fighting for second in the Championship. He has a big gap, but anything can happen with the forecast. With my pace being good, we can fight at the front and try to take it to the last race at least.”
Like Rea, Lowes completed two stints in FP2 that totalled 19 laps and was also incredibly consistent throughout with all his laps set in the 1’31s or 1’32s bracket. His fastest lap of the day was at the start of his second stint in the final session when he posted a 1’31.416s to finish third in the combined classification. His time was 0.289s slower than Rea’s best and 0.184s slower than Bautista at the end of the day.
Discussing this, Lowes said: “It was good, really positive, coming off the back of a tough weekend last weekend where I couldn’t get the feeling I needed. Today’s been the opposite, I didn’t touch the bike today really. I just tried to relax. It’s all about tyre life and trying to get the tyres to last over the 22 laps here. Honestly, it was good. In the first session, I used the same tyre. The afternoon, we made a small change and it felt a little bit better on the front. In general, we had a really positive day and I feel happy with the feeling I have with the bike. It was good for Kawasaki. We want to be fighting for the top step. Obviously, Jonny’s not won for a long time so it would be nice to have a Kawasaki up there winning and I feel this weekend, if it’s dry anyway, we have a good chance to go and fight for victory.”
Will Rea end his win drought, or can Lowes claim his first win since Australia 2020? Find out on Saturday using the WorldSBK VideoPass!