Niccolo Canepa has easily earmarked himself as the EVO rider to beat when the opening round of the 2014 World Superbike Championship gets underway at Phillip Island this weekend as he dominated his category and encroached on the class above.

The Italian, who rides the only Ducati 1199R in the ten-strong EVO field, had already been tipped as a favourite for the inaugural EVO crown, but the margin of his advantage over the competition - and his proximity to his championship class rivals - has simply bolstered that status further.

Indeed, after two days of testing, Canepa was not only seven tenths clear of nearest EVO rival David Salom (who was in turn seven tenths up on third place rider Fabien Foret), but he was just three tenths shy of Chaz Davies on the full-specification Ducati.

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With this in mind, the former MotoGP rider was delighted with the performance of his Althea Racing-prepared bike, particularly the overall race pace.

"I made further improvement and confirmed my position as the quickest of the EVO riders, but above all we were able to try many different solutions which gave us data that will prove very useful both this coming weekend and throughout the season. I recorded my best time in the afternoon with a tyre that I'd already used for more than twenty laps and this bodes well for Sunday's races.

"We're working well and are constantly reducing the gap that separates us from the fastest riders. We've found a good base and so I'm optimistic for the first two races of the season. I would like to thank my team for having done such a great job."

Though predictions in the EVO class have been somewhat clouded by injuries to five riders - half of the EVO field in Australia -, Salom was consistently second best on the factory-assisted Kawasaki, with fellow ZX-10R riders Fabien Foret, Sheridan Morais and Jeremy Guarnoni more closely matched in third, fourth and fifth.