Spain’s Alvaro Bautista had the edge over World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea in free practice on Friday ahead of the penultimate round of the series in Argentina.
Bautista topped the times in FP1 and set the pace again in the second session to end the day 0.104s ahead of Rea, who secured a record fifth successive crown following victory in the final race at Magny-Cours in France at the end of September.
The long straights at the San Juan circuit play to the strengths of Bautista’s Aruba.it Ducati and Rea appears to have a fight on his hands to add to his tally of 12 victories this weekend, even though Spaniard Bautista is making his debut at the track.
Rea said: “It was really difficult to find a feeling out there because you cannot push anywhere near the limit. It is like riding on marbles and the track did not get much better.
I expected a big step in the afternoon session. Even though the track looked cleaner the grip wasn’t there. A really frustrating day because you are kind of reluctant to do anything with the bike set-up in readiness for the track ‘rubbering-in’ some more.”
Rea will have a new team-mate in 2020, with Briton Alex Lowes confirmed to be joining the Kawasaki Racing Team as a replacement for Leon Haslam, who will leave at the end of the season.
Guim Roda, team manager, said: “KRT welcomes a 27-year-old rider with a lot of pace and good experience. Our target is to ‘polish’ Lowes and try to make him a candidate for the title too.
“And he has a long career ahead. He has shown very good skills during these years and for sure the potential is there. We’ll try to use all the tools at our disposal in KRT to help him show his best.”
Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Barni Racing) was third fastest on Friday ahead of Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Ducati) and Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad).
Eugene Laverty 19th on the Team Go Eleven Ducati.
The first race takes place on Saturday at 20:00 BST following Superpole qualifying.
On Sunday, the Superpole race is scheduled for 17:00 BST with race two at 20:00 BST.