Tommy Hill made a spectacular return to domestic action by dominating the opening free practice sessions ahead of the seventh round of the ViSK British Superbike Championship in association with Pirelli at Mallory Park.
The former World Superbike rider took over from Michael Rutter as the replacement rider for the injured Sylvain Guintoli in the Worx Crescent Suzuki team at the Leicestershire circuit and, on his debut with them, was quickly setting the pace.
In the opening session, he recorded a lap of 89.93mph, but bettered that during the afternoon with a lap of the 1.41miles circuit in 56.227secs to be running a third of a second clear of the rest, led by Hydrex Honda rider Karl Harris.
“This is fantastic and the way I wanted to return,” said Hill. “It has been has been so long since I have been able to look at the timing screen and be so happy – it is a bit of an emotional time.
“Things are gelling well for us, but we cannot get carried away and have to keep pushing forwards – it is what happens on raceday that counts,” he added as he prepared for his one hundredth race in the country’s premier series.
Harris was under pressure for second place on the leaderboard as James Ellison closed within 0.003secs aboard his Airwaves Yamaha as he prepared for a races in which he intends to peg back the 78 points deficit that he has on his team-mate, the series leading Camier.
Chris Walker, riding the Motorpoint Henderson Yamaha, ran fourth, to be just ahead of Camier who was frustrated by machine problems that ruled him out of the second session, giving him no chance to improve on his best lap of 56.756secs.
John Laverty, riding the locally prepared Buildbase Kawasaki, moved sixth with a lap of 56.841secs, just ahead of the HM Plant Honda duo of Josh Brookes and National Superstock Champion Steve Brogan who is deputising for the team’s injured Glen Richards.
Julien da Costa, despite a tumble in the afternoon session, was ninth best aboard the MSS Colchester Kawasaki, with Stuart Easton only 0.002secs down on the Hydrex Honda, but ahead of the second MSS bike in the hands of Simon Andrews.
Graeme Gowland, Rutter who was replacing Jason O’Halloran for this round on the SMT Honda and Ian Lowry riding the Relentless Suzuki were all within a second of Hill’s leaderboard topping time.
Tommy Bridewell, the winner of three of the previous four Mirror.co.uk Cup races, was fastest in the category for independent teams and riders, with a best lap of 57.240secs aboard his Team NB Suzuki. Richard Cooper was 0.064secs down on the Co-ordit Yamaha with the series leading Gary Mason third with the Quay Garage Honda, having lapped in 57.333secs.
Top ten times overall in free practice
1 Tommy Hill, Worx Crescent Suzuki, 56.227secs, av.sp. 90.27mph
2 Karl Harris, Hydrex Honda, 56.591s
3 James Ellison, Airwaves Yamaha, 56.594s
4 Chris Walker, Motorpoint Henderson Yamaha, 56.669s
5 Leon Camier, Airwaves Yamaha, 56.756s
6 John Laverty, Buildbase Kawasaki, 56.841s
7 Josh Brookes, HM Plant Honda, 56.898s
8 Steve Brogan, HM Plant Honda, 56.915s
9 Julien da Costa, MSS Colchester Kawasaki, 57.003s
10 Stuart Easton, Hydrex Honda, 57.005s