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Eager to secure second overall in the world championship, Tom Sykes began the penultimate European round of the World Superbike season in Jerez by lapping fastest in FP1.
The Englishman, who wrapped up his first world title at this track in 2013, was just two hundredths of a second faster than team-mate Jonathan Rea in a closely packed top ten.
Indeed just 0.013s separated Sykes, Ducati's Chaz Davies and Rea for the first two thirds of the session until the number 66 dipped into the 1m 41s, the first man to do so this weekend.
Rea also improved late on, ensuring he was the only other rider to lap below 1m 42s. Davies was just 0.09s off Sykes's best, suggesting that from this evidence, that trio may contest a close fight for victory on Sunday.
Less than a tenth back of Davies' best effort, Niccolò Canepa impressed aboard his Althea Ducati as he ended the session fourth fastest.
There was a late fall for Jordi Torres as Jerez's notoriously tight turn one. The Spaniard had been looking to build on a fast early time that eventually placed him fifth, narrowly ahead of team-mate Leon Haslam.
Torres felt no ill-effects of the crash as he soon remounted to bring his RSV4 RF back to pit lane.
Behind Haslam, the Ducatis of Matteo Baiocco and Michele Pirro followed, less than half a second slower than the fastest morning time. Less than a week after qualifying on the second row for the MotoGP race at Misano, Pirro is deputising for the injured Davide Giugliano this weekend.
Sylvain Guintoli placed ninth while Michael van der Mark slowly built himself up towards the tenth fastest time, 0.15s off his more experienced team-mate.
Crescent Suzuki's Alex Lowes was eleventh.