The big guns are fit and firing: that’s the message coming out of Europe as world superbike pre-season testing comes to an end in the northern hemisphere ahead of the season-opening Yamaha Finance round at Victoria’s Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit from February 24-26.
Over the last fortnight, WorldSBK testing has been held in Portugal and Spain, with reigning world champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki) the fastest in both outings at Jerez – the same venue where he dominated a combined WorldSBK and MotoGP test last November – while fellow Briton Chaz Davies (Ducati) sat at the top of the timesheets at Portimao.
The opening WorldSBK test at Jerez from January 23-25 saw all the top teams in attendance, including Honda (Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl) with its all-new homologation-special CBR1000RR SP2.
Despite the bikes being hastily prepared at the team’s Dutch headquarters, Hayden (1:40.548) was impressive in completing the three-day test in sixth position, behind Rea (1:39.809), Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia, 1:39.920), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki, 1:40.219), the returning Marco Melandri (Ducati, 1:40.313) and Davies (1:40.324).
A number of other riders also set times in the 40s mark including Alex Lowes (Yamaha), Xavi Fores (Ducati) and Bradl.
Rea’s top time only came after he crashed at turn three on the final day, when Savadori was leading the way. After a trip to the medical centre to get the all clear, Rea then went out on his second bike to edge out the Italian speedster – who has joined Aprilia’s factory team alongside Eugene Laverty.
“It is nice to set such a good lap time at this time of the year but it is testing and I have never been the best guy for one lap,” said Rea, who’s riding an updated ZX-10RR. “We have been able to make many fast laps in these winter tests, however, and we have found a bike set-up that has been working well.
“I felt my own ‘bike fitness’ was not great as I have been off the race bike for so many weeks now. I am looking forward to the next test to try and do a lot of laps. I need some more mileage to feel like I did during the season last year.”
With teams barely drawing breath, Portimao – returning to the WorldSBK calendar in 2017 after a one-year break – was the next top on January 28-29, with Kawasaki an absentee.
The top seven riders all finished within a second of each other, led by Davies (1:41.813) followed by Laverty (1:42.002), Savadori (1:42.043), Leon Haslam (Kawasaki, 1:42.300), Leon Camier (MV Agusta, 1:42.339), Lowes (1:42.533) and van der Mark (1:42.794). Haslam, a former WorldSBK winner and now British superbike campaigner, was deputising for Randy Krummenacher who was injured at the previous Jerez test.
“We did a lot of work in the past two days, as well as in Jerez, and overall we can be happy with the results,” said Davies. “We completed a detailed program to evaluate all the technical upgrades, with good feedback.
“These tests, after a two-month break, were also crucial to allow me to get back the feeling I had on the bike towards the end of last year. The team has done a great job, and we’re optimistic ahead of the season opener in Australia, where we’ll take advantage of the final tests to fine-tune the details.”
The second Jerez test was dominated by Kawasaki (Rea, 1:L39.248 and Sykes 1:40.928) with Ducati, Aprilia, Honda and Yamaha all absent.
The teams have now returned to their European bases to prepare to fly Down Under for the final pre-season test at Philip Island on February 20-21 ahead of round one back at the fast and flowing circuit on February 24-26.
At Phillip Island, Aussie Josh Brookes will compete in WorldSBK on the same Yamaha he won the 2015 British title on, while Anthony West (Yamaha) will join countrymen Aiden Wagner (Honda) and Lachlan Epis (Kawasaki) in WorldSSP.
There will be two WorldSBK races over the weekend, in addition to WorldSSP and 13 national-level support races across superbike, supersport, 300 supersport and historics.
TICKETS ON TICKETEK
Tickets are available from Ticketek, with a three-day general admission at just $120*, saving $35 on the gate price. Also available via Ticketek are BarSBK passes at $260* with undercover viewing locations at the circuit’s most spectacular points – Doohan Corner, Lukey Heights and Siberia. Adult single day tickets start at $30* for Friday, $65* for Saturday and $80* for Sunday, purchased in advance.
World supers is a mega-scorcher delivering three days of action, so make the most of a visit to beautiful Phillip Island in summer and camp at the circuit with up to four nights for just $105*.
The best news for families is that children 15 and under are free^ for both the event and circuit camping, making it an affordable, summer long weekend getaway for all the gang at pristine Phillip Island.