Jonathan Rea and his KRT team-mate Leon Haslam found a dusty and slippery track surface on the first day of action at the Villicum circuit, holding back lap times and providing challenging conditions throughout each hot free practice session.
The Circuito San Juan Villicum asphalt surface proved to tricky as the WorldSBK riders took to the track for the first time since Jonathan Rea was crowned World Champion for the fifth successive time in France two weeks ago.
Easing into the first day and building pace Rea ended up in a battle for the overnight leading position, just losing his advantage right at the end to Alvaro Bautista.
Typically lap times were over four seconds slower than the best pace from 2018, simply due to the track surface conditions, which finally offered up a relatively clean but narrow racing line. The afternoon session provided little, if any, improvement in outright grip, especially with track temperatures approaching 50°C.
Haslam was unfortunate in the afternoon session to fall almost as soon as he started, at Turn 16, suffering an off-throttle highside trying out a different option rear tyre and injuring his knee and thumb as he fell.
Despite his heavy hit Haslam got going again to finish seventh overall, after a typically gritty recovery at the end of FP2.
The track conditions are such that there will be longer 35-minute FP3 session on Saturday to allow more time for practice and to help clean the track before Tissot Superpole qualifying, and then the first race of the weekend, over 21-laps.
Jonathan Rea: “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.”
Leon Haslam: “I fell on an out lap, with zero-lean angle and zero brakes, as I had an off throttle high-side. It is the first time I had used that tyre. I went back out on my second tyre after the crash and I had zero grip. I could not even get to my knee because compared to the morning conditions they were a lot worse. We changed the tyre near the end and slowly got going.”