Stuart Easton threw the first punch of a pivotal weekend in the British Supersport Championship as the Scotsman topped the times at Assen on the Mar-Train Racing Yamaha.
Easton, who heads the series by eight points from Carrick man Alastair Seeley with three rounds remaining, powered to provisional pole in the second free practice session on Friday at the legendary Dutch track.
The 30-year-old edged the number one spot by 0.086 seconds from reigning champion Glen Richards on the Smiths Triumph with Seeley ending the day in sixth place on the Gearlink Kawasaki, 0.713s down on Easton’s table-topping lap.
The opening practice session was hit by wet weather, with Richard Cooper leading the times as Easton played it safe, completing three laps as he ended FP1 in 22nd position.
Seeley, normally a major contender in the wet, was surprisingly only 11th fastest - perhaps erring on the side of caution following his costly spill in the damp during free practice last time out at Donington Park.
Ulsterman Seeley is determined to re-ignite his championship challenge after his once-commanding lead of 47 points was wiped out by Easton, who took full advantage when Seeley’s crashes at Cadwell Park and Donington resulted in injuries that left the 2011 British Supersport champion facing an uphill struggle.
Mar-Train Racing team principal, Tim Martin, is quietly confident Easton can deliver the goods this weekend and extend his lead at the top.
“We have plenty of data from last year at Assen with Jack [Kennedy] and if we combine that with the Mar-Train Racing package and Stuart in the saddle, I’m quietly confident we can do a decent job in front of the Dutch fans.
“It’s getting down to the business end of the season and I’m sure there will be a few nerves, but that’s what we all love about this championship.”
Glenn Irwin, meanwhile - who parted company with Mar-Train Racing after Donington - was 18th on the CF Motorsport Yamaha, with team-mate Nikki Coates 27th.
Final qualifying takes place on Saturday ahead of the 12-lap Sprint race, which is scheduled for a 3.55pm start.