Niccolò Canepa showed exactly why he is being increasingly touted as a potential replacement for Troy Bayliss at Xerox Ducati next year by going second fastest in testing at Vallelunga.
The reigning Superstock 1000 Champion is due to make his World Superbike debut this month when he enters the Brno, Magny-Cours and Vallelunga rounds as a wildcard.
Getting the chance to sample Superbike machinery for the first time, Canepa was eighth fastest in the morning, out of 18 riders, before lowering his best time by a second and a half. That was enough to lift him up the timesheets to second place.
Naturally, the Ducati MotoGP test rider was pleased with his efforts, even if he admits he found it hard to adapt to the Superbike initially.
"This morning I found it a bit tricky at first because it's been a long while since I rode a Superbike and after all the kilometres I've clocked up on the GP bike it took a bit of time this morning to adapt. I didn't expect to go so well so quickly today to be honest so I have to say I'm very happy.
The significance of his pace will not be underestimated. With the factory-backed Ducati team searching for at least one new rider in 2009, Canepa, with his lengthy relationship with Ducati, is well placed to be the outfit's number one choice.
Nonetheless, Canepa insists he still has a long way to go before he is fully competitive, pointing out that he needs to concentrate on getting the most out of his bike over a single lap in Superpole.
“We will certainly improve further tomorrow and we also want to test qualifiers as I haven't tried them yet and I don't want to be ill-prepared for Superpole at Brno. I think I need a little time to gain confidence with the bike but I have to admit I'm very satisfied with the progress we've made already today."