Reigning World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss was fastest after Wednesday’s first sessions of the official WSB testing at Phillip Island in Australia.
Bayliss managed to take his new Ducati 998R to a time of 1:32.94s – not far short of the fastest WSB lap ever of 1:32.19 set by Troy Corser on a Ducati in 1999.
Second fastest was Ducati team-mate Ruben Xaus with a time of 1:33.18s despite a low speed crash at Lukey Heights when the fairing touched down. Former world champ Colin Edwards wasthird fastest.
Worryingly Bayliss claims to be just settling in at his home track – an indication of how tough to beat he is going to be this year.
The Ducati 998R for 2002 features a new engine that has a revised bigger bore and shorter stroke that allows it to rev harder and higher to produce 186bhp at the crank – up from 175bhp in 2001. The engine sound has also changed compared to the 2001 bikes with a far harder-edged, slightly metallic and less boomy engine note at full speed down the start/finish straight.
Both Bayliss and Edwards arrived in Australia fresh from a three-day tyre test at Kyalami last week so were unsurprisingly on the pace far quicker than rivals – many of whom have not ridden a bike since before Christmas.
British trio Neil Hodgson, Chris Walker and James Toseland were relatively happy with eighth, ninth and 10th quickest overall as it was only the first of three days testing and none have ridden a bike since before Christmas.
All three managed to get lots of track time in and were more concerned about getting the bikes set-up rather than setting fast times.
Hodgson said: " The new bike is fantastic – it’s very sensitive but miles better than the one from last year and we have hardly touched it yet in terms of setting it up. The power delivery is more linear, the suspension is better, the brakes bite more and it just feels a lot more powerful and comfortable when being pushed hard. "
Walker said: " I love the track but I’m not going quickly enough because I have never been here before and the bits you need to be fast on are hard to learn. The last third of a lap is incredibly fast but it takes more than one day to be able to get on the pace. "
For Aprilia’s new recruit Noriyuki Haga the first day of the test was a great start to the proper testing of the new evolution of the RSV1000 he’ll race in WSB. He was able to sort some early suspension problems and finished the day fourth quickest.
American Ben Bostrom was only able to take seventh fastest slot after a crash just before lunch left his bike badly damaged although he escaped unhurt.
World supersport test: Also at the test were some of the top World Supersport teams – including the world champ Andrew Pitt who was lucky to escape with bruising after a 100mph crash that destroyed his Kawasaki ZX6-R.
Pitt lost the front going into the ultra-fast turn at the entry to Lukey Heights and got caught up with the bike before slamming into the tyre wall.
He said: " I felt the front go but managed to catch it but then it went again and I was sliding. It was all so fast that I didn’t have time to do anything except go loose and hope it wasn’t going to hurt too much. It did. "
The fastest rider in the Supersport class was Spaniard Pere Riba with Aussie Chris Vermeulen second and Pitt third.
British riders James Ellison and John McGuinness also got their first taste of the competition in the very close class of World Supersport.
Ellison is team-mates with Pitt at Kawasaki and multiple Isle of Man TT winner McGuinness is riding alongside Aussie Karl Muggeridge at the Honda Britain run Honda Racing team.
Ellison said: " I’ve just been settling in really and trying to get a set-up I am happy with so I can push harder over the next couple of days. "
McGuinness said: " It has been more a case of getting the bikes set up to be ridden than riding them today. We’ve been trying to get the fuel-injection sorted out but tomorrow should allow us to go faster. "