Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) and Jonathan Rea (Pata Honda World Superbike) headed up the first qualifying session at Imola and were only separated by 0.112 seconds as they put a gap between themselves and the rest of the field on the opening day.
Both riders dipped under Sykes’ existing race lap record in race tyres, with Sykes setting a 1’47.218 today which was also just under half a second from his previous outright best lap of 1’46.748.
Third in the initial test of pure pace was PI podium finisher Michel Fabrizio (Red Devils Roma Aprilia), a significant 0.4 behind Sykes. He was closely followed a true surprise in Ayrton Badovini (Team Ducati Alstare), who took his official SBK Panigale to a fourth place few would have expected.
In a happy day for Italian riders in general Davide Giugliano (Althea Racing Aprilia) and Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Gold Bet SBK) finished fifth and sixth, making two Brits ahead of four Italians in the top provisional grid places.
Championship leader Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia Racing) placed seventh, one up on Englishman Leon Camier (Fixi Crescent Suzuki) and two places up on his championship rival and team-mate Eugene Laverty (Aprilia Racing). Laverty was the first rider more than a second from Sykes’
provisional pole time.
Half a second behind the top nine came practice faller Loris Baz (KRT), while Chas Davies (BMW Motorrad Gold Bet SBK) went 11th. Leon Haslam (Pata Honda World Superbike) put in 15 laps of qualifying to go 13th from 19 riders as he continues his recovery from a left leg injury.
Final qualifying is on Saturday morning, with Superpole for the top 15 qualifiers in its usual afternoon slot on Saturday afternoon.