Eugene Laverty started Voltcom Crescent Suzuki’s tropical eni FIM Superbike World Championship debut at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia today with a solid sixth position in the first day’s practice sessions.
With an extended 75 minutes on-track for the opening session, allowing the riders time to learn the new circuit, Laverty and team-mate Alex Lowes did just that aboard their respective Yoshimura-powered GSX-Rs. Both used the initial half-an-hour to get up to speed, the real business of set-up specifics left for the remaining 45-minute stint. A small crash at turn four in the last 12 minutes of the session, however, left the Irishman little chance to improve and while Lowes finished just inside the top 10, Laverty missed the marker by 100th of a second to hold 11th.
Friday afternoon saw air temperatures soar to 31°C with 70% humidity making it feel much higher and little changed in the times during the opening 20 minutes of free practice two. Lowes was one of the first to improve his lap at the session’s midpoint to take seventh with a 2'06.089 before returning to the pits for a set-up change. The closing minutes saw the times start to tumble with all but two of the front runners improving. Laverty put his Suzuki GSX-R1000 in fifth position with a time of 2'05.356 with just five minutes to go, but was relegated to sixth in the dying minutes by Ducati’s Davide Giugliano. Lowes maintained his 10th-place spot and heads into tomorrow’s final timed free practice session with a solid 31 lap knowledge of the Asian circuit.
Aprilia’s Sylvain Guintoli took the fastest time of the day, just inside the 2’05 barrier.
With marginally cooler conditions forecast for tomorrow’s third free practice session, scheduled at 09:45hrs local time (02:45BST), Voltcom Crescent Suzuki will look to capitalise on the information gained today in a bid to secure its places in the final of the afternoon’s two Superpole sessions. Qualifying begins at 15:00hrs local time (08:00BST) with the top 12 in action at 15:25hrs (08:25BST).
“This morning we were a long way off but this afternoon we jumped-up to within a quarter of a second of the top guys so our bike is working the best it has done in these hot and slippery conditions. We definitely made a step chassis wise. For qualifying I need to be in the top six, like I am now; I need to be on those first two rows! We need to improve the starts because that’s been a real thorn in my side this year, I sometimes go backwards on the first lap and have to work hard to get back, which is too late, so that’s key for tomorrow.”
“The track is good, it’s nice to ride at Sepang as it’s a fantastic circuit, but I didn’t feel that good on the bike today, so we need to improve a lot tomorrow ahead of the afternoon’s qualifying. I will put my head together with my Crew Chief Lez this evening to see how we can get closer to the front runners and, after good night’s sleep to process what I’ve learnt today, I’ll be raring to go for the rest of the weekend.”
Paul Denning – Team Manager:
“Both team and riders have worked hard in the heat today and in the end settled into a pretty good position as we approach qualifying tomorrow. Eugene had a very small crash this morning, losing the front into turn four, but aside from that his rhythm and the setting of the GSX-R has improved step-by-step and it will have done Eugene’s confidence some good to end the day; on such a long lap, only a couple of 10ths-off first position. His recent testing on the Suzuki MotoGP bike doesn’t appear to have affected his feel for the GSX-R at all and I think we can continue to take decent steps forward tomorrow.
“Alex is a little bit disappointed with his lap time and position but I don’t think he should be. Unlike many of the guys in front of him he’s never seen the Sepang circuit before and it does make a decent difference to knowing the feeling and what should be expected. There are some improvements to make, especially gear ratio choice and the turning of the bike, but I think the biggest help to the performance tomorrow will be coming back to the circuit and understanding how to get round the track quickly.”
Sepang – eni FIM Superbike World Championship – Free Practice combined times: 1. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia) 2’05.096; 2. Marco Melandri (Aprilia) +0.071; 3. Toni Elias (Aprilia) +0.126; 4. Davide Giugliano (Ducati) +0.182; 5. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) +0.187; 6. Eugene Laverty (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) +0.260. 10. Alex Lowes (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki +0.993.