When the 26-rider grid began the first-ever World Superbike practice at Chang International Circuit in Thailand, it was greeted with extreme humidity and 90-degree temperatures.
Many riders struggled with the greasy conditions in morning session (free practice 1; all Friday practice sessions were extended from 45 to 75 minutes due to it being a new circuit) at the 2.8-mile circuit located near Buriram, which translates to “City of Happiness.”
But Kawasaki Racing Team’s Jonathan Rea – who won race one at Phillip Island – had the edge, the Northern Ireland native posting a best lap of 1:35.004 – an impressive 0.751 over teammate Tom Sykes and exactly a second ahead of Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils Jordi Torres.
But once this initial Thailand shakedown was complete, times across the board began to immediately drop in free practice 2. Rea remained on top, but he wasn’t quickest; the fastest time of the day went to Voltcom Crescent Suzuki’s Alex Lowes.
The Brit posted a 1:34.685 aboard his GSX-R1000 to take the provisional pole, just nudging Rea out of first by 0.066 of a second. Lowes and Rea were by far the quickest riders, both finishing over a half-second ahead of the others. The next closest rider was Aruba.it Racing-Ducati Superbike Team’s Chaz Davies, who regrouped from an FP1 crash to finish 0.603 of a second behind Lowes.
“Today has been good! It’s always nice to come to a new track, to learn the layout and try to understand the challenges of each corner. I really like the mid-section – you have to be quite physical on the bike which suits my style quite a bit,” Lowes says.
“It’s been a good day, we’ve worked hard and I’ve done a lot of laps, completing two 10-lap runs in the last session, but it’s only Friday and the times are going to get a lot quicker so we’ll see what happens. The heat is obviously hard for everyone, and it’s going to be tough on the tires but I’m enjoying it! I enjoyed it in Australia even though we didn’t get the results we deserved and I’m enjoying it again here. Thanks to the lads for working really hard, I’ll keep trying and see if I can get some good results on Sunday.”
The main focus during FP2 was choice of the available Pirelli tires, and many riders opted to string together several laps to create a race simulation. The speeds picked up as FP2 progressed, and Lowes set his time with four minutes remaining.
Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils RSV4 pilot Leon Haslam posted the exact time as Davies. Following Haslam 0.169 of a second back was the 2013 World Superbike Champion Sykes, who was followed a further 0.113 of a second back by the reigning World SBK Champion Pata Honda World Superbike’s Sylvain Guintoli.
This placed five manufacturers in the top six, and each bike was separated by 0.0885 of a second.
Rounding out the top 10 were Davide Giugliano’s substitute rider on the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike Team Panigale R, Troy Bayliss, Althea Racing Ducati’s Matteo Baiocco, Torres, and Team Pedercini Kawasaki’s David Salom.
As for the Team Hero EBR boys, Larry Pegram and Niccolo Canepa both had technical issues on their 1190RXs, but were able to complete some laps to finish 23rd and 18th, respectively.
World SBK reports that the reigning and former FIM Superstock 1000cc Cup winners Leandro Mercado (Barni Racing) and Sylvain Barrier (BMW Motorrad Italia) were locked together in 11th and 14th respectively after two encouraging sessions. The pair were split by Michael van der Mark (Pata Honda WSBK Team) and Randy de Puniet (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki) with former 125cc GP World Champion Nico Terol (Althea Racing Ducati) 15th.
The riders return to Chang International Circuit Saturday for one additional free practice ahead of Superpole.
2015 Chang SBK Practice Results, Friday Combined:
- Lowes (Suzuki) 1’34.685
- Rea (Kawasaki) 1’34.751
- Davies (Ducati) 1’35.288
- Haslam (Aprilia) 1’35.288
- Sykes (Kawasaki) 1’35.457
- Guintoli (Honda) 1’35.570
- Bayliss (Ducati) 1’35.690
- Baiocco (Ducati) 1’35.913
- Torres (Aprilia) 1’35.943
- Salom (Kawasaki) 1’36.055