It was Alex Lowes who led the Yamaha charge on the opening day in Portugal, as the FIM Superbike World Championship exploded back into action at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão. The Pata Yamaha WorldSBK rider ended the day third fastest with his time from this morning’s first free practice, as rising track temperatures and reduced grip saw only one of the top ten riders improve during this afternoon’s second 50-minute session.
Michael van der Mark trailed his Pata Yamaha teammate by just two-tenths to secure fifth place on the timesheet on the opening day, again with a fastest lap posted during the cooler conditions of FP1 this morning.
The two Pata Yamaha riders declared themselves satisfied with their pace on the opening day, with both confident of further improvements ahead of WorldSBK Race 1 tomorrow afternoon.
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK rider, Sandro Cortese, showed that he is now fully recovered from the shoulder injury that hampered him in the previous two rounds. The reigning Supersport World Champion focused on tyre testing on the opening day, which he finished in seventh position, after posting almost identical lap times in both practice sessions.
It proved a difficult opening day once again for Marco Melandri, who is still struggling to find a set-up on his GRT Yamaha YZF-R1 to suit his riding style. The veteran Italian and his crew opted for a different direction with set-up here in Portimão but were left frustrated when the expected improvements failed to materialise. Melandri will focus tomorrow on increasing his confidence in the front, in a bid to rediscover his form from earlier in the season.
Loris Baz, who arrived in Portimão straight from the Pre-Bol d’Or test at the Circuit Paul Ricard, focused on race set-up and tyre strategy in free practice today, including a long race run when the track temperature was at its highest this afternoon. The Frenchman was happy with his pace in race trim but will be looking to shave a few tenths of his lap time on new tyres ahead of qualifying tomorrow.
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P3 – 1’42.051
“It’s always the same here in Portimão, with the track conditions changing as the temperature goes up. But today was the best I’ve felt here in the hotter conditions, so it was a good second practice session. We tried something right at the end that didn’t quite work as we were expecting, but it’s been really positive with plenty of laps on used tyres. There are still a couple of areas in which I’d like to improve, such as on corner exit where I need to be a bit smoother when the track temperature is higher and the surface is a little bit greasy. We’ll have a look through the data tonight to see if we can find some improvements, but I’m happy to be back on the bike and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P5 – 1’42.277
“It’s been a solid opening day here in Portugal. The first session this morning was a good one for us, even if the track didn’t feel the same as it did at the test here last month. But that’s typical Portimão and not unexpected. I struggled a little bit with the front feeling on the bike, so it’s also been challenging, especially this afternoon with the increase in track temperature. We’re still working to improve our pace in the heat, but the best set-up for this is proving a little elusive at the moment. But we’re definitely going in the right direction because the feeling with the bike improved at the end this afternoon. We have a few ideas to try tomorrow, but we’ll be ready to race.”