The Pata Yamaha WorldSBK and GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK riders made a solid rather than stellar start on the opening day of proceedings at Round 5 of the FIM Superbike World Championship in Imola. It was Michael van der Mark who led the way for Yamaha, ending the day sixth on combined times and declaring it one of his best days in Imola to date. Alex Lowes was eighth fastest on the opening day, despite still suffering the effects of a stomach bug picked up earlier in the week. Marco Melandri didn’t quite get the start he wanted to his home race weekend and will be looking to improve on 12th place ahead of qualifying tomorrow. After a positive start this morning, a lowside crash brought FP2 to a premature conclusion for Sandro Cortese, who ended the opening day 14th on the timesheet.
Van der Mark was quick to find a set-up on his R1 to suit the demands of the 4.936 km Imola track this morning in FP1, which he finished with the sixth best lap time. The Pata Yamaha rider and his crew continued to refine the set-up of his R1 throughout this afternoon’s second free practice session, with improvements allowing van der Mark to better his previous best lap time to again finish sixth. The 26-year-old was happy with the progress made on the first day in Imola, a track that has proved unkind to van der Mark in the past, as he looks to continue his good form following a double podium in Assen.
A stomach bug picked up earlier in the week took its toll on Lowes today, with the 28-year-old Briton forced to limit the number of laps during both free practice sessions due to his physical condition. Despite feeling sick on the bike and weakness due to dehydration, the Pata Yamaha rider managed to work with his crew to find a good feeling with his R1 around the technically demanding Imola circuit, ending the day just three tenths behind his teammate. Lowes will now focus on his recovery, as he looks to return at full strength for qualifying and the first race tomorrow.
Melandri continued to struggle with the set-up issues that have plagued him during the last three rounds here in Imola today. The problems meant the veteran Italian lacked the confidence needed for a fast lap time and he was disappointed to end the day 12th in front of his home crowd. Melandri remains adamant, however, that he and his crew will find a solution to the issues, allowing him to rediscover the form that saw him finish the opening race of the season on the podium.
Cortese fell foul of one of Imola’s less endearing characteristics today, after crashing during the early stages of FP2 this afternoon. With no service road surrounding the 4.936km track there is no way to return a fallen bike and rider to the paddock, leaving any rider unfortunate enough to crash sitting on the side-lines until the end of the session. Despite the premature end to his opening day in Imola, Cortese remains upbeat and is looking forward to Race 1 tomorrow.
Qualifying, which for 2019 is a single 25-minute Superpole session, will take place 11.00 tomorrow, with lights out for Race 1 at 14.00.
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P6 – 1’47.214
“A solid start today. Imola is always a difficult track at which to find a good set-up, especially coming from Assen, which is very different in character. This morning I felt quite strong from the start and we managed to improve the bike further during the session. This afternoon we initially went a little bit in the wrong direction, but we stayed calm, wound back the changes slightly and, at the end, I felt really strong on the bike again. We had an issue with getting the bike stopped but, again, we managed to find some improvements in this area. My time would have been better but for hitting traffic on my fastest lap, but I’m really happy with the bike now and I think we can still improve further tomorrow. Overall, it’s been one of my best days in Imola so far.”
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P8 – 1’47.537
“I’ve been struggling with a bit of a stomach bug since Wednesday, so I didn’t have too much energy today. On the bike I felt a little bit sick, so it was a case today of trying to learn as much as we can in the minimum number of laps. We actually got a lot more done that I thought possible; we’ve got a good direction and the bike feels good. Now I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to rest and recover and, hopefully, coming back a bit stronger tomorrow for the first race.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P12 – 1’47.973
“I struggled a lot today with the same issues as before. There wasn’t one area in which I was feeling bad or feeling good, I just feel it’s everywhere, so I’m missing confidence. The guys are working so hard to find a solution to suit me and we will find a way, step-by-step, but it’s not so easy. We don’t need a big improvement; even a small improvement would allow me to build confidence, ride a bit more how I know and reduce the gap to the front but, at the moment, we haven’t found what we need. Here I was expecting much better, so I’m obviously disappointed, but we will keep working.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P14 – 1’48.457
“This morning wasn’t too bad and I was P12 while learning the track aboard the R1. This afternoon we wanted to try a long run on the hard front tyre but I think this was maybe a mistake on the opening day with my limited experience of this track. But we did it and I crashed, which wouldn’t have been an issue at any other track but with no service road here in Imola it’s impossible to get the bike back to the pit box before the end of the session, so that was the end of my first day. So, at the end, it was a bit of a tough day but it’s race day tomorrow and, in the race, anything can happen, so I’m staying positive.”