Defending champion Jonathan Rea topped the time sheets after the first day of free practice for the Suzuka 8hrs race in Japan.
Rea, riding for the FCC TSR Honda team alongside former BSB champion Ryuichi Kiyonari, set a 1’08.812 lap in the opening session that was unbeaten for the rest of the day.
However, the traditional dominance of local teams at the cost of the full-time WEC teams was broken as the BMW Motorrad 99 team of Damian Cudlin, Erwan Nigon and Jason Pridmore set a lap only 0.02 slower than Rea’s to go second.
Third was another of the permanent teams, the Monster Yamaha squad of Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Australians Broc Parkes and Josh Waters, a further 0.1 back.
Fourth was the MuSASHi Harc Pro Honda of Pata Honda regulars Leon Haslam and Michael van der Mark, paired with local racer Takumi Takahashi, while fifth was the Yoshimura Suzuki of Tyco Suzuki racer Josh Brookes, teamed with Takuya Tsuda and Nobustsu Aoki.
The ‘legends’ super-team of Nori Haga, Yuki Kagayama and former world champion Kevin Schwantz finished the day in 10th, 1.8 off the leaders, while the Honda TT Legends team finished in 32nd, as circuit newcomers Michael Rutter and Simon Andrews continue to learn the track.
“It’s taking me a while to adopt to the bike – it’s very different from my WSB bike,” Rea told MCN afterwards. “It’s also a long time since I rode on Bridgestone tyres. We went well in the first session, then kept in the same tyre for the second to see how it lasted, and the results have left me confident.”
Tomorrow sees two 30-minute qualifying sessions for each rider, followed by an hour-long night practice session.