Reigning WorldSBK champ and current points leader Jonathan Rea drew first blood in the opening free practice at Laguna Seca today but was kept honest by old team non-mate Tom Sykes who stayed within six-tenths off the Kawasaki man.
Rea went out of the blocks fast and was the first rider under the 1’24s barrier, setting a 1’23.962 on his fourth lap which was never beaten by the rest of the pack. Rea then dropped his time first to a 1’23.695, then 1’23.627 and then to a 1’23.440 where it was easily good enough to stay on top.
Sykes’ BMW sparred with both Alex Lowes and Chaz Davies for second place early on but the Huddersfield man found a 1’23.986 with 17 minutes left to run to nick second place from the Yamaha man.
Lowes looked set for third place until a late flurry from Puccetti Kawasaki’s Toprak Razgatlioglu saw the Turkish flag run up the third-place flag pole after the Sofuoglu protege clawed his way into third with a 1’24.187 to finish three-quarters of a second ahead of his Kawasaki team leader.
Strangely, Lowes didn’t appear for the final five-minute fight for top spot but remained in his garage so missed out on a chance to bag top spot which, ultimately, doesn’t win you anything and can lead to a medical centre sojourn.
Team-mate Michel van der Mark did some out blazing in a last run, though, and slipped into fifth place with his last lap of 1’24.247.
This pushed Auba Ducati’s Davies down to sixth after the Welshman set his best on the ninth lap of 23 and couldn’t improve. He was still top Panigale V4, however, as Alvaro Bautista was one place further back in seventh and 0.170s slower than Davies albeit at a track he hasn’t ridden since his first MotoGP days back in the 1940s.
Ten Kate Yamaha’s Loris Baz held off a late charge from GRT Yamaha’s Marco Melandri for eighth while Leon Haslam slid back to tenth place after finding fifth at the halfway mark.
Jordi Torres and Tati Mercado were next along with Sandro Cortese just getting the better of the heroic Eugene Laverty for 13th. Ryuichi Kiyonari bagged 15th place while MotoAmerica wildcard JD Beach had the dubious honour of outpacing Markus Reiterberger on the BMW who has never seen this place before and was at death’s door this time last week.