Voltcom Crescent Suzuki had an encouraging start at the Autodromo do Algarve in Portugal Friday for the initial two free practice sessions of the eni FIM Superbike World Championship weekend.
Eugene Laverty showed determined-promise from the opening stages on his Yoshimura-powered GSX-R to claim the third-fastest time of the morning session. Having made adjustments to his Suzuki to accommodate his right foot - re-injured during Misano's race one a fortnight ago - Laverty continued his pace throughout the afternoon, setting a 1’44.147-lap to hold third position for both of the individual sessions and claiming fourth overall in the combined times.
Despite conditions being drastically different from his previous visit to the Portuguese circuit, Alex Lowes quickly got –to-grips with the 45°C track. Lowes ran fourth in the morning outing, then the he continued his progress on the GSX-R1000, recording a 1’44.374 as the afternoon drew to a close; his lap-time earning him seventh position heading into tomorrow's final qualifying free practice.
Blue skies and glorious sunshine bathed the Autodromo do Algarve for the opening day of track action, with asphalt temperatures reaching 52°C by mid-afternoon. Aprillia’s Marco Melandri held the fastest time in both free practice sessions, with BMW’s Sylvain Barrier claiming the position within the EVO class.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki returns to the Portimao circuit for the final timed free practice session at 09:45BST tomorrow morning, with Saturday’s Superpole scheduled for 15:00BST.
“To be right at the sharp-end on day-one is very promising. The Suzuki works really well here; it’s a track that has a lot of secrets and I’ve worked hard over the years to learn them. I’m confident that we will be there challenging for the win on Sunday and it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that. I was quite annoyed with my right foot this morning because it’s worse than the original injury and it means that I can’t use the rear brake now; so we are working on a thumb brake system. We will try to use that because the rear brake is a fundamental part of my riding style.”
“I’m happy to be only a couple-of-tenths off Eugene as this is a good track for him and he’s done a lot of work round here. It’s my first-ever race here and we’re not too far away. I’m really enjoying it so far, so we will keep working over the weekend and see if we can challenge on Sunday. I think we can improve the bike and have a better result tomorrow.”
Paul Denning – Team Manager:
“It has been a good first day for the whole team in Portimao; possibly the best Friday of the season so far. Eugene’s foot is far from perfect but he has managed to adapt and the team has adapted the bike by removing the rear brake system and adding a thumb brake system to try to help a little bit. It is nice to see Eugene really enjoying the GSX-R again and hopefully we can find a little-more performance to help make the job easier as we go into tomorrow.
“I think Alex is enjoying coming to a circuit that he has ridden the bike at before but with the track temperature up at 45°C compared to 18°C in January, the feeling is very different and he has had to work hard to understand the limits with the level of grip being reduced and the tyre movement being increased. He is riding in a fully-committed style and one of the targets for tomorrow will be to make the bike a little less nervous and easier to ride over race-distance at a decent pace.”
Portimao – eni FIM Superbike World Championship – Free Practice combined times: 1. Marco Melandri (Aprilia) 1’43.880: 2. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) +0.047: 3. Jonathan Rea (Honda) +0.059: 4. Eugene Laverty (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) +0.267: 5. Chaz Davies (Ducati) +0.393. 7. Alex Lowes (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) + 0.494.