Defending champion Jonathan Rea led proceedings on day one of the Pirelli Italian Round ahead of Chaz Davies and Tom Sykes.
The day started in bizarre fashion with immediate issues for Eugene Laverty at Tamburello, which cost him valuable track time, before a high-side at turn Acque Minerale with twenty minutes gone, resulting in a red flag.
The Irishman suffered fractures to both wrists, and due to the injuries he will take no further part this weekend, with Tommy Bridewell from the British Superbike championship called in as his replacement.
Imola is the first circuit on the calendar where championship leader Bautista has no prior experience, providing an opportunity for the rest of the field to finally get on terms with the Spaniard.
Rea knows this is one of the best opportunities to date to beat Bautista, and if this pace continues for the Kawasaki rider, Bautista will have a huge battle on his hands to make it twelve wins in a row.
Rea clocked a fastest lap of 1:46.636 in free practice one, and it wasn’t until the final stages where Davies broke the 1’47 barrier with a 1:46.923. Both Ducati riders had the advantage in sector one throughout the day, but Rea made the difference in the slow twisty chicanes and especially sector four.
It was another great day for Motorrad BMW and Tom Sykes, finishing fifth just behind Leon Haslam on the second Kawasaki in the first session, before improving and finishing the day third fastest overall.
Team-mate Markus Reiterberger finished both sessions eleventh and twelfth respectively. The team had hoped to have some engine upgrades for this race, but that will instead take place at the next round in Jerez.
For Haslam, he once again spent time behind Rea like at Assen, to study where his team-mate was strong, and it paid off with some very quick laps from last year’s British Superbike champion.
It was a tough start to the day for the Pata Yamaha team as Michael Van Der Mark finished 0.923 seconds down on Rea, with Alex Lowes 1.375 seconds off the pace. But with some changes to the setup both riders improved significantly in the afternoon session, closing the gap on the front runners.
Surprisingly it looks like Davies has the initial setup and speed to challenge Rea heading into tomorrow, with Bautista still adapting to the Imola layout and trying to find the right balance.
Action continues live Saturday 11 May at 8am with free practice three, followed by Superpole at 10am and race one at 13:00pm