Eugene Laverty was on a high after a ‘special’ opening day at the final round of the 2018 World Superbike Championship in Qatar.
The Milwaukee Aprilia rider headed the combined times (1m 57.323s) following the first three free practice sessions, topping the leaderboard by 0.183s from world champion Jonathan Rea.
It was a timely boost for the Toomebridge man, who learned this week that he would be replaced in Shaun Muir’s new-look factory-backed BMW team in 2019 by Tom Sykes, who was third fastest overall on Thursday - 0.008s behind his Kawasaki team-mate Rea.
Laverty said: “The first day here in Qatar was pretty special; first in the first session, second in FP2 and to finish the day on top was incredible.
“It’s not just one-lap pace and in free practice two I was out there doing a half-race run. We had a consistent pace and I couldn’t believe my lap times when I saw each lap, one after the other – it was an amazing feeling.
“It couldn’t happen at a better time and the bike is working fantastic, so let’s see what tomorrow brings,” he added.
“We know our pace is good at this stage so we’ll try and keep it up. I want to try and be up there on that podium.”
Laverty said he was making gains in corner entry with the Aprilia, which was an issue with the bike at the Losail International Circuit in 2017.
“The Aprilia works well here and I can really stop the bike well at the final point of corner entry. With the tarmac being so smooth and flat here, it means that I can really decelerate the bike with the rear tyre,” he said.
“The problem with the bike here last year was that we couldn’t make the rear tyre work, we couldn’t utilise it, whereas with what we learned this year at Laguna Seca and Misano to be able to push with that rear tyre, we’ve been able to carry it forward here. Everything is working well so far.”
Britain’s Alex Lowes – fastest in FP2 – slotted into fourth on the PATA Yamaha, with Laverty’s team-mate, Lorenzo Savadori, in fifth – four-tenths off the quickest lap. Loris Baz completed the top six on the Althea BMW.
Welshman Chaz Davies was down in ninth place on the Aruba.it Ducati, seven tenths adrift of Laverty.