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Alex Lowes continues to defy expectations as the opening round of the 2014 World Superbike Championship officially got underway at Phillip Island.
The newcomer, making his full-time WSBK debut with Voltcom Crescent Suzuki this season, sprung to the top of the FP2 timesheets within the first ten minutes before improving his own benchmark to 1min 31.100secs at the mid-way stage.
Though that remains some nine tenths off the lap record and the ultimate pace set by Tom Sykes in testing earlier this week, it was good enough to ensure Lowes ended the first day of race weekend action in Australia as the man to beat.
With five manufacturers inside the top five positions, it was Aprilia's Marco Melandri that got closest to Lowes, the Italian one of several riders to post fast splits during the opening two sectors before losing ground to the young Briton in the latter half of the lap.
Similarly, Davide Giugliano appeared on course for the top spot late on as he posted 'purple' sectors, but he'd be forced to settle for third on the Ducati, albeit less than a tenth off Lowes in an incredibly tight session.
Testing pace setter Tom Sykes maintained a low profile over the course of the day, joining a number of riders in skipping the damp FP1 session altogether before spending much of FP2 lapping in the lower reaches of the top ten. The Kawasaki rider would eventually bounce back to fourth place.
Behind him, Jonathan Rea hauled Honda into the top five, ahead of Eugene Laverty on the second Suzuki and Leon Haslam, while Loris Baz and Chaz Davies had to be content with eighth and ninth after both suffering falls at turn 12 and 9 respectively. Sylvain Guintoli rounds out the top ten, albeit a mere six tenths off the ultimate pace.
Elsewhere, Toni Elias brought himself onto the edge of the top ten aboard the Red Devils Roma Aprilia, while Niccolo Canepa picked up where he left off from testing by pacing EVO ranks, four tenths clear of Fabien Foret and David Salom.
Behind them, Glenn Allerton was straight up to speed on the BMW Italia following a late call-up to replace Sylvain Barrier in 15th, while fellow Australian Mathew Walters, who will ride in place of Luca Scassa at Pedercini Kawasaki, was 22nd best
Of the new manufacturers, Claudio Corti was 16th fastest on the MV Agusta, while Geoff May continued to make in-roads into the riders ahead aboard the Erik Buell Racing 1190RX. Together with Aaron Yates, the pair are now comfortably within the 107 per cent qualifying rule, with May having reduced the gap to the front to 3.5secs.
By contrast, BMW Team Toth newcomer Peter Sebestyen remains 7.9secs behind the front runners and is also 1.5secs shy of the 107 per cent time he needs to make it into the race.