Jason O’Halloran has said he’s expecting to turn heads as the British Superbike season kicks off in April as the Honda Racing squad has already made big strides forward with the Fireblade.
There was no rest for O’Halloran and team-mate Dan Linfoot as the season ended with the duo heading out to Jerez for a three-day test to evaluate a number of new components including a new engine and various different chassis components.
2017 proved to be a tough year for the Honda duo as the squad struggled with the brand new Fireblade. Progress was clear, however, with O’Halloran claiming several podiums on the bike and making it into the title fighters’ Showdown while Linfoot clinched the Fireblade’s first wins towards the end of the year.
Despite that, both riders said the team still had a way to go if they were to challenge for the title, but a big step towards that has been made with the new-for-2018 engine.
Last year the Louth-based squad had been using engines tuned to the specification used in 2016, but moved to a more powerful 2018 SP2 spec motor at Jerez with both O’Halloran and Linfoot impressed with the step forward.
“When we first put the new engine in, I expected to use it and then go back to the 2017 engine for a comparison,” O’Halloran explained. “But that wasn’t the case. Immediately I knew it was a step forward, I felt comfortable straight away. The new engine has more power so I was expecting the bike to feel faster but it actually felt slower, which is good because when you are going fast and it feels slow it means everything is working how it should be!
“The bike was quite aggressive in 2017 and difficult to manage, you’d always feel like you’re going a million miles an hour when you were actually going nowhere! To have a new spec engine which has more power and more top speed while also being easier to ride is not something easy to achieve.”
The Honda squad also tested various different chassis in Jerez, a standard version, a Ten Kate chassis and an in-house chassis – with the difference in the latter two being in the way in which they were braced.
“I ended up sticking with the chassis I raced in 2017, the Ten Kate one,” O’Halloran explained. “I felt best on that during the test but I’d like to try the in-house one again. It was a lot stiffer and I’m not sure Jerez is the best place to try that. Somewhere with tighter corners and chicanes might suit it more, and I know Dan quite liked it and he was quick.”
O’Halloran thinks the early test could be the secret to Honda’s 2018 campaign, with last year’s season severely hampered by a challenging pre-season testing schedule after the late arrival of bikes.
“For me, it was super important to get out early. When testing starts late, if you have a problem you don’t have time to fix it for the first races and then it’s also hard to test throughout the year, so you have to be ready for the start of the season. Testing at Jerez this side of Christmas was massive for us and I think we’ll see the benefits of that, not only do we now know the 2018 engine is better but we have time to further improve it before our 2018 pre-season tests.
“Worst case scenario we’re going to have what we’ve got now, which is better than what we raced in 2017 and best case scenario is we’ll have something better again so I’m confident we are going to be strong at Donington Park come the start of April. I actually think we’ll be a lot stronger than people think we might be.”
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