Lowes On The Pace On Opening Day In Qatar
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team rider Alex Lowes got the final race weekend of the 2018 season off to a flying start today in Qatar, ending the day fourth on combined times after topping the timesheet in FP2. Michael van der Mark secured automatic entry into tomorrow's Superpole 2 by finishing eighth today, despite having sat out most of the opening free practice session following a crash that he was lucky to walk away from uninjured.
The first free practice session got underway as the sun set behind the main grandstand, with the riders heading out onto a track that was dusty and slippery through lack of use. Lowes quickly mastered the tricky conditions to finish sixth, but his Pata Yamaha teammate wasn't so fortunate.
Van der Mark lost the rear and highsided on the entry to turn one on only his second timed lap. The 25-year-old was lucky to walk away with minor bruising to his wrist and knee, but the bike was too badly damaged to allow him to return to the track before the session came to an end.
While van der Mark played catch up during FP2, it was Lowes who set the pace. The Pata Yamaha rider was fast and consistent from the start of the session, which took place at the same time and in the same conditions as the races will be run on Friday and Saturday, building his pace throughout to eventually claim the top spot on the timesheet, which he held to the chequered flag.
For the third and final practice this evening, Lowes and his crew focused on race set-up, running a 15-lap race simulation on rather than chasing a one-off fast lap. Despite problems with front tyre endurance on his long run, Lowes' pace was quick enough to see him finish the opening day fourth on combined times and to secure automatic entry to Superpole 2 tomorrow.
Having struggled to find a good feeling with his R1 in FP2, after losing most of the first practice to the crash, van der Mark and his crew made significant set-up changes for the third and final practice session, with positive results. The Pata Yamaha was immediately able to improve his lap time, eventually finishing in eighth position despite losing time to a mistake on his fastest lap.
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - P4 - 1:57.656
"It's been a decent start to the weekend and I enjoyed it today. I felt like I was riding well, but we still need to find something with the bike for me to feel completely comfortable, especially when the tyre starts to drop off and it becomes a bit more difficult to finish the corner. I felt really good in the second session today, finishing on top around about the same time as the races are scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday, which was good. I did a long run in the last session, rather than going for a quick lap, but my pace was still good. We had some issues with front tyre endurance during the race simulation, so we need to look at that tonight and come up with a plan for tomorrow. Overall it was a good day and I'm sure we can improve further tomorrow."
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - P8 - 1:57.980
"The first session started well; I felt good on the bike straight away, but then I lost the rear going into turn one and had such a massive highside that left me a bit battered and bruised but, thankfully, with no injuries. So that was it for that session, as the bike was quite badly damaged. My crew did an amazing job to get it repaired ready for FP2, so big thanks to them. We were playing catch up from the second session onwards because we lost so much time but, step-by-step, we were able to improve and, physically, I had no problem on the bike. We made quite big changes to the suspension set up at the front and rear for FP3, which brought an improvement and my lap time was quite good, despite a big mistake on my fastest lap. I'm happy to have made it straight into Superpole 2 tomorrow after losing so much track time today."
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - Team Principal
"An interesting first day and evening here in Qatar under the lights, with the normal challenges to face of variable track temperatures as the evening rolls in and a very dirty track. Michael got caught out on his second timed lap in FP1 and suffered a very nasty entry highside. Fortunately his Alpinestars airbag system really made a difference, meaning he got away with a bad knock to his wrist and knee but was able to resume work in FP2. Having missed all of the first session you're obviously playing catch up but he stuck to his tasks very well, his crew did what they could to make up for lost time and we're in a lot better shape than it looked like we might be in FP1. Alex has had a really good day; quickest in FP2 and a 15-lap long run in FP3, which wasn't perfect but has given him and his crew really valuable information to work on for tomorrow. Overall, there are improvements to be made and as the track develops further and gains more grip we hope this will also work in our favour and allow our R1 machines to perform strongly tomorrow."