Calafat circuit might not be used for racing these days but it’s a perfect BSB test track – with its dead stop hairpins and flip flop Esses that mimic many of our circuits.
It’s a weird old place though, with no access to the garages from the front of the pit lane. Instead, the riders have to drop down into the paddock to gain access to their pit boxes from the rear.
What’s also not ideal is the location of the course. It might be right next to the Mediterranean, but there was a cruel biting cross-wind today that was catching the riders just as they were braking or accelerating out of the corners at each end of the course.
We arrived late in the day, having driven down from Barcelona and pulled up in the paddock just in time to see Shane Byrne, Ryuichi Kiyonari, Tommy Hill and Michael Laverty arcing through the Esses at the back of the pits. ‘BSB 2011 starts right here, right now,’ I thought.
Title-winning Honda team and factory WSB-spec Swan Yamahas. Two of the championship favourite teams for 2011. I couldn’t imagine any better introduction to the new season than seeing these four riders on track together.
Being the first day of a test there weren’t many conclusions to be drawn. It was about riders getting up to speed after a winter of gym work, long lonely runs and bicycle rides.
It was about getting the bikes dialled to find mechanical grip before turning all the electronics on. And for each of them apart from Shakey, it was a case of leaning their way around a new venue.
Talking of bicycles, Shakey had with him a trick new Cervelo racing bike, which he’s been loaned to test. It’s got some fangled electronic gear-change system and he reckons ‘it’s the nuts...’ Especially as he averaged 21mph in a training ride on Monday here - even in high winds.
But riding a push bike is one thing, grappling a 200+bhp superbike is another and by the end of the day he’d ripped blisters on his palms, though banter from the Yamaha camp suggested he should ‘man-up’ a bit!
Calafat was sunny today, if a little windy, but by 7.00pm, the sun had almost gone and, the gusty wind that made it hard work for the riders all day, had turned bitter cold.
I didn’t get to spend much time with Kiyo today, but he said the bike was very fast and he felt very tired after doing 60-odd laps. But Shakey was full of it.
Despite coming from a grunty Ducati v-twin that you could get on the throttle early in the corner, he was loving the linear power of the HM Plant Honda that he said just seemed to stronger and stronger the higher in the rev range he got, to the point where the front wheel would come up and he was at risk of it being blown away from him. Such were the gusting winds all day.
Both Hill and Laverty were talking about how much they potential they felt the Yamaha had.
Tommy said he needed time to adapt to the throttle blipper electronics but Laverty had used one on his Relentless Suzuki last year so was at ease with the Yamaha’s.
But both said how very different the R1 feels to anything they have ridden before.
Both said how good the R1 is in the corner but Laverty went further praising not just the corner-entry and turn-in of the bike – which for a machine that’s been criticised I the past for it’s lack of agility must be heartening for not only the riders but also for team owner Shaun Muir.
Didn’t get a chance to see the only other rider at the test, Jason O’Halloran, HM Plant Honda’s new superstock rider, but will definitely catch up with him tomorrow.
No idea of the weather forecast for tomorrow but, judging by the temperature when we walked back from the restaurant just now (it’s nearly 11.00pm as I write this), we’re not going to be on track very early tomorrow.
That’s the one thing about testing in Spain at this time of the year. The skies might be blue and the sun might be warm, but it takes a ages for the heat to burn off the overnight chill so the window for testing is maybe 11.00 until 3.00pm at best – and the marshals must have their lunch-hour siesta in the middle of that.
But hey, it’s great to be here, seeing race bikes on track again.
See you tomorrow.