Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes has drawn first blood in the opening - and first-ever - WorldSBK free practice session at San Juan in Argentina, fending off late charges from both Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu to seal top spot.
Lowes ended the historic first session with a 1’44.096 on a very green and dusty surface, and times are expected to drop significantly by the end of the day. The Derby-based rider had a six-tenths advantage as the minutes ticked down but his advantage was cut to a little over a tenth by the four-time world champion with his last lap who also dropped Puccetti Kawasaki’s Topratz to third in the process.
As you would expect with a new track and pack of riders with no data, the leaderboard chopped and changed more often than a Brexit deal and after an inital burst from Kawasaki’s Rea and the Milwaukee Aprilia of Eugene Laverty, Marco Melandri settled down to put in a stint at the top with a 1’46.502.
Tom Sykes then took up the challenge and rattled off a brace of fastest lap, culminating in a 1’46.037 and he was chased by Rea with Lowes beginning to make advances up the order.
Rea and Sykes were lapping together but it was the four-time champion who prevailed with ten minutes left, first sticking in a 1’45.427 and then a 1’44.838 which, with seven minutes to go, gave him a lead of more than one second.
But Lowes stuck to his guns and eclipsed the KRT rider while team-mate Michael Van Der Mark slid into fifth place. It became a fight for the places then as Melandri stole third place with a 1’45.264 and which pushed Chaz Davies, who had taken fifth, into sixth.
With two minutes to run, it looked like Melandri had sealed third but Topratz had other ideas and grabbed it with a 1’44.350. Sykes then whipped in a lap for fourth but Melandri’s last was better and he had to settle for fifth.
Van der Mark took sixth with Davies seventh and 1.5s off the pace. Lorenzo Savadori, hometown hero Tati Mercado and Loris Baz completed the top ten with Leon Camier 11th. Laverty ended in 13th place with TripleM Honda newboy Florian Marino in 14th. Xavi Fores was way down in 14th place.