Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu led the way in a rain-affected Friday at Donington Park, with Alvaro Bautista down in P8
The MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship hit the iconic Donington Park circuit on Friday for the first day of action with Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) leading the way ahead of Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK). Championship leader Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) could only manage eighth with both Free Practice 1 and 2 impacted by rain. With Donington historically being a weaker track for Ducati, could the Prosecco DOC UK Round be a turning point in 2023?
FP1 was held in mostly dry but occasionally rainy conditions and it was six-time Champion Rea who led the field as he set a 1’27.627s with 11 laps to his name. With the rain falling sporadically during the 45-minute session, riders were selecting when to head out on track carefully. Rea’s time was less than a tenth clear of Razgatlioglu in FP1, with the 2021 Champion completing 16 timed laps in the morning.
The rain fell more consistently in FP2 and only a handful of riders set a lap time. One of these was Razgatlioglu who actually improved his time from FP1 as he posted a 1’27.639s and found 0.040s between the two sessions; his best time in FP2 came at the optimal moment when the circuit was at its driest in the afternoon. Ulsterman Rea opted not to head out in the second practice session, and he was one of 17 riders who did not set a lap time as well as one of three who didn’t complete an out lap before returning to the box.
Bautista took eighth place in the combined standings with the reigning Champion setting a 1’28.143s in FP1 to lap half-a-second down on Rea. The Spaniard was one of the 17 who did not set a lap time in FP2 as he opted to stay in his box, although he did complete one out lap right at the start of the session. At a track that has, in recent years, been difficult to Ducati, will Rea and Razgatlioglu be able to take the fight to Bautista and make Donington a turning point in the season?
Talking about whether he could fight with the Spaniard, Rea said: “Alvaro’s the guy. It’s up to him to pull it together. Today was a difficult situation for everybody. I don’t want to say I risked a lot, but I was pushing hard. I have track knowledge. I picked my track time well, when it was at its driest. It was easy to be a hero today, but it also would’ve been very easy to crash and make a mistake. I fully expect Bautista to be there tomorrow and why not? He’s riding so well right now. The package is there. I think he’s the guy for the weekend.”
Discussing his chances of beating Bautista, Razgatlioglu commented: “I don’t know but we will see. I am trying more than 100% because I love this track and, last year, we took three wins. For this year, why not? It looks like Jonny is always strong and I hope we are fighting in the race because many people are coming to watch. I think everybody who’s watching wants very good racing. We are focused on the race. We didn’t take any risks today and I hope we are winning the races. Bautista’s normally a fast rider. He’s the Championship leader and I think he didn’t take risks today. He’s riding very calmly. I didn’t ride aggressively today and didn’t take the risk. We will see in the race because he’s a strong rider.”
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