Jonathan Rea was fourth fastest during the opening free practice sessions at Donington Park on Friday as nine-time winner Tom Sykes headed the times on the factory BMW.
World Superbike Championship leader Alvaro Bautista was sixth quickest on the Aruba.it Ducati, only 0.272s off Sykes’ pace during an ultra-close opening day at the Leicestershire circuit, which is hosting round eight of the series.
Kawasaki rider Rea, who was just 0.079s behind Sykes, is aiming to close the deficit further to Bautista this weekend at his adopted home race after putting a dent in the Spaniard’s lead at Misano.
The top two are now separated only by 16 points and reigning champion Rea will be fired up to put more pressure on his title rival going into the summer break, with Laguna Seca in the USA coming hot on the heels of Donington next weekend before the series breaks for almost two months.
Sykes, who also led the way in FP1, edged out fellow Briton Alex Lowes (PATA Yamaha) to take the top spot on Friday by 0.018s with Turkish rider Toprak Razgatlioglu (Puccetti Racing) the first Kawasaki rider in third.
Rea and team-mate Leon Haslam were next ahead of Bautista, while Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha) and Loris Baz (Ten Kate Yamaha) completed the top eight.
Michael van der Mark, a double winner in 2018 at Donington, was 11th as he makes his return following a huge crash that ruled him out of all three races at Misano.
International road racing star Peter Hickman was 12th on the second of the factory BMW machines after receiving a call-up to Shaun Muir’s team to replace Markus Reiterberger, who is struggling with flu.
Eugene Laverty was declared unfit to race after the Team Go Eleven Ducati rider made his return on Friday from injury after breaking both wrists in a crash at Imola in Italy.