Honours were even in the practice results on the opening day of the Kings of Wanneroo event in Perth, Western Australia as GB and Australia shared the top ten positions at the end of Friday’s three 25-minute practice sessions.
It was KTM Australia’s Shannon Johnson who topped every session on his RC8R machine, ending the day with a lap of 56.544s just over half a second quicker than Jonathan Rea who, as expected, was the leading British rider.
The World Superbike ace was in a bit of a panic at the beginning of the day when his machine failed to turn up but it arrived in time for opening practice session and he soon got to grips with the undulating Wanneroo Park as he pushed Johnson all the way, despite being on a near-standard bike.
Australian riders sandwiched Jeremy McWilliams in fourth as Cameron Keevers and Ben Stronach took third and fifth respectively on their Honda Fireblade and Ducati 1098R machines, the duo taking full advantage of their local knowledge.
Keevers has had a strong year in the Australian Supersport Championship whilst Stronach finished runner-up in this year’s Western Australia Superbike series so the pairing will definitely be ones to watch come race day.
A late lap in the final session saw McWilliams jump up to fourth with Simon Andrews doing a similar trick in sixth.
The Kawasaki rider had to make all manner of changes to his bike during the course of the day, notably altering the handlebars and suspension settings whilst he was also plagued by brake problems throughout.
By the end of the day he had the bike a bike closer to race worthy and is hopeful of making further improvements in time for Saturday’s qualifying sessions.
Following Andrews were two Aussies and two Brits, double World Supersport champion Andrew Pitt taking seventh with his best time also coming in the final session to push Alastair Seeley back to eighth.
Yamaha Australia Superbike rider Daniel Stauffer was ninth fastest with Ian Lowry back in tenth, the young Ulsterman having to watch half of the final session as the exhaust blew on his K8 Suzuki.
Less than half a second covered third to tenth whilst the road racers found themselves occupying 15th to 19th with Keith Amor leading Conor Cummins, Guy Martin, Ryan Farquhar and Ian Lougher.
Michael Swann completed the British competitors in 20th place.
All of the British newcomers were in agreement that the circuit has plenty to offer despite it’s relatively short length with Rea commenting, “it’s real fun and for a short lap there’s an awful lot packed in to it so it’s quite hard work.
"It’s nice just to go out there and have a bit of fun on a bike and at this moment in time it’s all about trying to gauge how hard you can push into the corners and how hard you can push these road bikes we’re on.”
Seeley, who was struggling for rear grip, agreed saying “it’s a bit bumpy in places and a bit slippy off line but it’s good fun and the back section (‘The Basin’) is awesome.
"In some places the rear is really spinning up so it’s all good fun and I’m sure once we’ve all worked out how quick you can go in to the corners, the times will drop a fair bit.”
McWilliams added, “it’s a tricky little track but it’s a lot of fun and there’s a little bit of everything in there – ups, downs, slow corners, fast corners etc.
"The KTM I’m on is pretty much a bog standard road bike and you simply don’t know how hard you can push it.
"The bike’s a bit heavy changing direction, which you do a lot of round here, so we’re trying to get more support for the front and raise the rear to make things a bit easier.
"I’ve also been playing around a bit with gearing but apart from that, there’s not a lot we can do – it’s definitely a case of being back to basics!”
Practice times - Friday
1 Shannon Johnson (KTM-AUS) 56.544s
2 Jonathan Rea (Hon-GB) 57.109s
3 Cameron Keevers (Hon-AUS) 57.712s
4 Jeremy McWilliams (KTM-GB) 57.904s
5 Ben Stronach (Duc-AUS) 57.923s
6 Simon Andrews (Kaw-GB) 58.065s
7 Andrew Pitt (Hon-AUS) 58.132s
8 Alastair Seeley (Suz-GB) 58.135s
9 Daniel Stauffer (Yam-AUS) 58.137s
10 Ian Lowry (Suz-GB) 58.289s