Jonathan Rea is confident he is at the start of a comeback against runaway World Superbike Championship leader Alvaro Bautista after comfortably out-pacing his title rival in free practice for round five at Imola.

With ex-MotoGP racer Bautista taking WorldSBK by storm with 11 wins from 11 starts so far this year on the new Aruba.it Ducati Panigale V4 R, only Rea has been able to run comparably with the Spaniard.

Even so, despite his 11 podiums (10 seconds, one third) Rea is already 53 points shy of his rival as action resumes from a short early season hiatus.

Nevertheless, Rea was in fine form in both FP1 and FP2 at the Italian venue to prove comfortably quicker than the opposition, not least Bautista who was half-a-second adrift in fourth on the Friday timesheets.

Though the Ulsterman insists little has changed on the bike, a fresh mentality is leaving him positive he is at the start of a formidable fightback.

“We didn’t really change much (in the break), other than I had a really nice rest at home with my family and training a lot. But at the track, the bike is quite similar and at this track, the character is really different.

“This was the place last year where we started building momentum with the first double win of the season and I feel already this year that we have made a small step forward.”

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