With just a week to go before the 2003 British Superbike Championship gets underway, Team Renegade Ducati's Michael Rutter blitzed the opposition during the final pre-season test at Donington Park, shaving almost half a second off the existing lap record on his way to posting the fastest time of the day.

Rutter, riding the Ducati 998FO2 machine he'll campaign in this year's championship for the first time, recorded his fastest lap during the last ten minutes of the final practice session, after making only minor adjustments to the bike Troy Bayliss took to second place in last year's World Superbike title battle.

"To be under the lap record first time out on the new bike is fantastic," said Rutter. "The factory bike only arrived in the country late last night, so we've had no time to set it up to suit me. Basically, we just peeled the Imola scrutineering stickers off the frame and rode it with the settings it came with!

"It definitely feels a lot more powerful than the customer spec bike I rode last season, but it also feels a lot smoother in the way it delivers that power to the rear wheel. The chassis and suspension obviously need some sorting, but with my settings on the bike, I'm confident that we'll be able to up the pace even further when we get to the opening round at Silverstone next weekend. I can't wait for the first race now," added the 29-year-old West Midlander.

Team Rizla Suzuki rider John Reynolds finished second, recording his fastest ever lap of the Donington National circuit in the process.

"It's great to get back on track with the other BSB teams," said former champ Reynolds. "The test session went really well. We tried out changes to the clutch and suspension and we have learnt a bit more that will help us perfect the chassis settings for Silverstone.

"I managed to go faster round the circuit today than I've ever gone before," continued JR. "That's not to say I am happy at finishing second on the time sheets, I would have much preferred to finish top. But the bike is strong, fast and I am absolutely ready to go to Silverstone for Round One. I can't wait for the racing to start."

Third fastest was new Monstermob Ducati rider Shane Byrne, riding for the defending champions. Shakey was 0.3secs slower than Reynolds, but almost 0.2secs ahead of Honda rider Steve Plater - campaigning the ex-Colin Edwards SP-2.

Fifth place went to BSB rookie, but experienced Suzuki rider, Yukio Kagayama, who may well have impressed further if he hadn't missed out on a fast final lap after running out of time.

"Yesterday [Saturday] I visited this circuit for the first time on a normal track day, with team test and development rider Niall Mackenzie. Today I had to ride much faster," said the Rizla rider. "The track is difficult to learn, and I am finding that the level of riding in the British Superbike Championship is very high.

"Today has been pleasing. I think I can get a good result in the Championship this season. The bike is very fast, the engine powerful. We are working on chassis settings and I am getting more comfortable with the bike. I am looking forward to racing at Silverstone," concluded Yukio.

Directly behind the Japanese was defending BSB champion Steve Hislop, now on a Yamaha and unsurprisingly the fastest R1 at Donington. Hislop will be more than a little concerned to find himself 1sec slower than Rutter at this stage.

Ever impressive Aussie Glen Richards put his Kawasaki 9th, just ahead of Rutter's Renegade Ducati team-mate Sean Emmett - who wasn't happy with the set up on his 998FO2 around Donington's sweeping curves.

"Our biggest problem today was that we don't know how the bike has been set-up by the factory, which obviously makes things a bit difficult," commented Emmett. "The engine is fantastic, so I'm really pleased about that, but geometry wise, the bike isn't right for me at the moment.

"We know what settings we want to put into it, but we need to get the bike back to the workshop and strip it down before we start making changes, otherwise we'll end up chasing our tail," added Emmett. "I'm confident that, by the time we get to Silverstone, we'll have everything sorted and I'll be right on it."

Finally, with his 748 Supersport machine still being prepared for the opening round at Renegade's workshop, Leon Haslam took to the track aboard Nick Medd's spare 998 Testastretta during today's test.

Despite never having ridden a Superbike before, the 19-year-old former GP rider ended the day 12th fastest overall; just two tenths of a second behind team-mate Emmett.

"After spending the last couple of weeks learning my way around the UK circuits aboard a road bike, it was good to get out on a proper race bike today, even if it isn't too similar to the bike I'll actually be racing this season," said Haslam. "I can't wait to finally get my hands on the Supersport bike and, although we won't have much time to get it set-up, I'm really looking forward to the first race."

Leading test times - Donington Park

1. Michael Rutter Ducati 1min 08.796secs
2. John Reynolds Suzuki 1min 09.007secs
3. Shane Byrne Ducati 1min 09.305secs
4. Steve Plater Honda 1min 09.499secs
5. Yukio Kagayama Suzuki 1min 09.668secs
6. Steve Hislop Yamaha 1min 09.787secs
7. John Crawford Ducati 1min 09.820secs
8. Gary Mason Yamaha 1min 09.897secs
9. Glen Richards Kawasaki 1min 10.147secs
10. Sean Emmett Ducati 1min 10.645secs