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Fresh from the confirmation that he will remain a Honda World Superbike rider in 2013, Jonathan Rea began his quest to end the 2012 season on a high by pacing first free practice at Magny-Cours.
Looking to firm his place in the overall top five this weekend, Rea was never far from the top spot throughout the session before eventually bursting to the front with his final lap at the expense of Sylvain Guintoli.
Indeed, Rea – whose bike will campaign a revised livery this weekend to celebrate the launch of the road-going 2013 Fireblade – looked to be settling for second behind Guintoli after falling short in the first three sector times. However, a big push in the final sector would see him squeeze ahead by less than a tenth.
Local favourite Guintoli nonetheless held on for second place around his home circuit, while Leon Camier made big gains late on to secure third fastest for the FIXI Crescent Suzuki team.
Of the title contenders, Tom Sykes came out best in fourth place, though title-elect Max Biaggi was in close contention in sixth, while Marco Melandri was eighth fastest in his first outing since injuring his back and ribs in an accident at Portimao.
Between them, Davide Giugliano was the top Althea Ducati rider in fifth, while Leon Haslam was seventh quickest, despite beginning his final event as a BMW rider with a crash in the opening minutes of the session. Outgoing champion Carlos Checa was ninth fastest, while Portimao race winner Eugene Laverty rounded out the top ten.
Elsewhere, there was frustration for Chaz Davies, Loris Baz and Maxime Berger, the trio all suffering technical issues on their respective Aprilia, Kawasaki and Ducati machines to set them back towards the bottom end of the timesheets.
Meanwhile, debutant Claudio Corti made an encouraging start to his WSBK endeavour by out-pacing Pedercini Kawasaki team-mate Alexander Lundh in 18th and proving just four tenths slower than a provisional Superpole spot.