WSB official test preview

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On Friday, the 2009 WSB season officially kicks off with the first all teams WSB and WSS test at Parkalgar in Portugal.

After months of speculation and anticipation regarding this year’s rider line-up we’re finally going to see the 32 strong grid on track at the same time.

From a British perspective Shane Byrne, Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Leon Haslam and Tommy Hill will be looking to show that they can be contenders in 2009.

All of them apart from Hill have already ridden at the Portuguese circuit so they know what to expect and what they’ll have to do to be at the front.

Since the end of the season all the Brits have tested. Byrne topped the timesheets in Portugal in November, which was particularly impressive given that he was riding the Sterilgarda Ducati for the very first time.

In December at the top teams Pirelli test in Kyalami, South Africa, 2008 WSS runner-up, Rea gave his rivals something to think about by ending the three day test fourth fastest.

He was also faster than his Ten Kate Honda team-mates Carlos Checa and Ryuichi Kiyonari who have both been riding the CBR1000RR for a full season with race wins to their credit.

Tom Sykes has been out on the his factory R1 twice but lost the majority of the three day test in South Africa due to a sickness and flu bug followed by a technical fault which caused a 100mph high side.

The 23 year old is nearing full fitness and needs a good test in Portugal to prove he can hang with new team-mate, Ben Spies.

Haslam has the task developing the new Stiggy Honda CBR1000RR as well as getting dialled in himself.

In his favour he has a wealth of Honda knowledge having won in BSB in 2008 and knows the Parkalgar track well after getting on the podium in the final WSB race of the year.

Tommy Hill has had just one test on his Hannspree Altea Honda, which went to plan. Now it’s time for him to build. First he needs to learn the undulating track and then get his head around how to ride the Honda Superbike.

Other points of interest include Haga’s switch to the Xerox Ducati squad. In South Africa the Japanese star crashed three times on day one before getting to grips with the 1200cc v-twin and setting the third fastest time.

Now with three days worth of data and set-up changes to the bike complete, the question remains whether Haga really can be a replacement for the previously dominant Troy Bayliss.

American Ben Spies is another man to watch. In his two tests so far he has been undeniably impressive finishing second fastest in both Portugal and South Africa.

s a triple American Superbike Champion he comes to WSB surrounded by a lot of hype, but if he is as fast again this weekend, we’ll have to believe what the American press have been saying about him for the last three years and consider him a genuine title contender.

Alstare Suzuki riders Max Neukirchner and Yukio Kagayama have been working away in the background perfecting the set-up of their all new 2009 GSXR-1000.

Although from the outside the bike looks similar to 2008, the spec is completely different and in South Africa it’ was clear that it is working well.

Neukirchner showed he has the pace to be a contender having won twice in 2008. With a new bike his potential is even higher.

There’s also BMW and Aprilia to consider. In South Africa seven weeks we got to see them ride in anger for the first time with both squads showing masses of potential, but were ultimately unable to match the leading pace of their rivals.

With three days of data and time to develop they are expected to be closer to the front at Parkalgar but they clearly have a lot of work to do to be able to match the speed and consistency of the benchmark Ducati.

MCN will be in Portugal for the three day test. For updates, reaction and lap times check back to motorcyclenews.com and see MCN out Wednesday 28th January.

Michael Guy

By Michael Guy

Sports Editor, former 250-racer and adventure rider