World Superbike’s 2019 preseason ended today in Phillip Island with Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) posting the fastest time to confirm his position from Monday, and just two days before the season gets underway.
Bautista was faster, once again, in the morning compared to the afternoon, as he set a 1’30.303 on the Panigale V4 R in the first session. His speed was similar in the afternoon, with a 30.326, and the Spaniard ended the test with three-times as many laps in the 1’30s than anyone else. The question mark surrounding the factory Ducati rider is his ability to manage the Pirelli WorldSBK tyres, which work in a different way to the Michelin MotoGP rubber. If Bautista can get on top of this issue with his riding style, he could be untouchable this weekend.
Difficulties remained, though, for the other Ducati riders, with Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) failing once again to make the top ten, Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven) only taking part in the morning session in which he finished sixteenth and 1.683 seconds away from Bautista; and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Barni Racing Team) not managing to get within 1.5 seconds of Bautista.
Second-fastest of the day was Tom Sykes on the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK S1000RR, with a 1’30.539 set in the afternoon. The new S1000RR is suffering on top speed which, regardless of pace, could hurt both Sykes and his factory BMW teammate, Markus Reiterberger, in a last lap scrap with Phillip Island’s long, high speed run to the finish line. But regardless of this (and any new bike can be expected to suffer on straight line speed, especially if the motor is not derived from a grand prix bike), the signs from BMW are positive, and they could surprise a few people this season.
Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was third-fastest on World Superbike’s final day of preseason, the 2018 BSB champion setting his fastest time – a 1’30.668 – also in the afternoon, like Sykes. Haslam has proven over the years to be something of a Phillip Island specialist, and it is showing again this year, having beaten his teammate, reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, on both days of the test. Haslam will be hoping to continue that into the race weekend itself in a couple of days.
World Champion Jonathan Rea ended the day fourth, but tellingly did not make any long runs, suggesting he is not yet completely happy with the new ZX-10RR. It certainly doesn’t seem to be anything the Northern Irishman needs to worry about too much, but there could be an opportunity for his rivals to capitalise in the early stages of this season, and their ability to take this chance could be pivotal for the outcome of the season.
The Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team riders were slightly further down the timesheets today, especially Alex Lowes who has been consistently in the top two or three times in preseason before today. Lowes was eighth in the morning, and sixth in the afternoon, but completed fifty-four laps over the course of the day and was still only half a second shy of the dominant Bautista at the close of proceedings.
Lowes’ teammate, Michael van der Mark, had almost the inverse of Lowes’ day, finishing the first session in fifth and the second in eighth. Van der Mark, though, completed sixty-three laps over the course of the day, and it would be a surprise if he were not in the mix come Saturday.
The semi-factory GRT Yamaha WorldSBK riders both were stronger in the morning than the afternoon, with Marco Melandri slipping from second to twelfth between the morning and the afternoon, and Sandro Cortese going from seventh to eleventh. Melandri, though, should be strong at the weekend, having been competitive in three of the four Phillip Island test sessions. The one session where he did not figure at the very sharp end being the final session of the week, where he was running what would be expected race lap times, in the 1’31s.
There were good signs from the independent Kawasaki riders in the afternoon, as Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) finished fifth-fastest, Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) was seventh and Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) ninth. These performances confirm that whilst there is a lack of quantity in this year’s WorldSBK field, there is plenty of quality to counter-act that.
Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) impressed in the Tuesday morning session, in which he finished tenth, 1.140 seconds shy of Bautista on the factory CBR1000RR. The Englishman backed that up with an eleventh place in the afternoon, 1.151 seconds outside Bautista. Camier’s teammate, Ryuichi Kiyonari, finished fourteenth in the morning and fifteenth in the afternoon.
The third full-time Honda (that is, to ignore the wildcard entry of Troy Herfoss) of Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) joined Eugene Laverty in only partaking in the morning session, which he closed in eighteenth place, 2.676 seconds off the pace.
The next time WorldSBK will be on track will be Friday morning, back in Phillip Island, for round one of the 2019 Superbike World Championship.