JONATHAN Rea will set out to climb the leaderboard during final qualifying for the eighth round of the World Superbike Championship at Motorland Aragon in Spain today.
The Honda Racing rider finished the opening qualifying session in 14th place yesterday on his first visit to the circuit after the Ulster star missed the inaugural race there in 2011 due to an injury he suffered at Misano.
The 25-year-old was satisfied with his performance in free practice yesterday morning, but a technical issue prevented Rea from increasing his pace in the afternoon.
“It’s been quite a difficult day and, to be honest, I didn’t really have a clue where I was going this morning, so I felt a bit like a novice,” he said.
“I was up to speed this afternoon though and was comfortable hovering inside the top ten when I felt something not quite right with the bike and came straight back to the box.
“The one-bike rule really hurt us today – just when I needed to be doing some laps,” added Rea, who is currently second in the championship table behind Max Biaggi.
“There was about half an hour of the session left, so I used the time to go and watch some of the other guys out on track.
“I need all the information I can get because the guys really got no useful data from last year’s visit here – even the gearing was out,” added Rea, who is two seconds off the fastest time set by BMW’s Marco Melandri.
“Two seconds is a lot to find but you can get half a second just through a bit of confidence, so it’s not all gloom and doom.”
Behind Melandri, Aprilia’s Biaggi was second fastest followed by Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes and Northern Ireland’s Eugene Laverty on the second factory RSV4, who is aiming to bounce back to top form this weekend after a series of frustrating performances.
Leon Haslam and Ayrton Badovini completed the top six, while reigning world champion Carlos Checa was 10th fastest on the Althea Ducati as he struggled to match the top speed of the BMW and Aprilia machines in a straight line.
Meanwhile, the famous Norton RCW588 raced by Ulster road racing legend Robert Dunlop will take top billing in a special parade lap at the Armoy road races next month.
Dunlop – tragically killed at the North West 200 in 2008 – famously won both Superbike races at the international road race in 1990, when he was timed through the speed trap at a then unheard of 190mph on the blisteringly-fast British machine.
Accompanying the bike will be owners Keith and Paul Richardson, and Dave Evans, the original mechanic for the factory Norton team from 1987 until 1992.
Evans said: “I’m really looking forward to coming to the Armoy road races. Northern Ireland is a very special place in the world of road racing. I’ve great memories of the place.”
Bill Kennedy, Clerk of the Course, added: “The British Norton is an exceptional bike and when Robert Dunlop joined the JPS Norton team he achieved some great wins. It will be just fantastic to see the Norton at Armoy.”
The Armoy road races take place on July 27-28.