Jonathan Rea could barely have made a better start to his quest to win the World Superbike title for the fourth successive time as he dominated free practice at Magny-Cours on Friday.
The Kawasaki rider dipped under the lap record at the French circuit in FP1 with a lap of 1m 32.202s, which put him 0.2 seconds ahead of team-mate Tom Sykes.
Rea experimented with different chassis settings in FP2 as Sykes hit the top of the time sheets, but the Ulster rider reverted back to his previous setting for FP3 and promptly set the pace once again, going close to his earlier benchmark with a lap in 1m 32.208s.
Alex Lowes slotted into third on the combined times on the PATA Yamaha with a lap in 1m 37.489s, while Rea’s main title rival, Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Ducati), was down in seventh place overall, half-a-second in arrears.
Rea holds an advantage of 116 points over Davies and is on the brink of a record fourth consecutive World Superbike crown, which would put him level with England’s Carl Fogarty on the all-time winners’ roll of honour.
The 31-year-old said: “We started well here and my second crono was under the lap record, so it seems like our bike is working pretty well. In FP3 we put the best package together and made a long run.
“I walked the track yesterday and it was a little bit dirty, you could see that, but it seems like the temperature this morning was really good. It also seems like our bike is a little bit easier to ride at this circuit because in the acceleration areas we have more torque power than aggressive power.
“That is helping us a little bit compared to last year. But I cannot really explain it, it was just fast," he added.
"My team has given me a great bike, so it’s up to me. I’ll try to get through Superpole clean and get a good start on the grid, and then see.”
Rea has his first chance to retain his title in race one on Saturday (12:00 BST). The second race is scheduled for 14:15 BST on Sunday.