With the start of a new-look WorldSBK Championship only a few days away the action in Australia got underway in testing mode on Monday 22nd February. Sessions were held on a dry track that was occasionally dappled by spots of rain but nothing like the kind of real rain that caused the disruption to the MotoGP tests a few days earlier.
In two 120-minute sessions the 25 WorldSBK riders had a good chance to make their final pre-season approaches, with some of them having new parts to test since their final forays in Europe.
For KRT rider Tom Sykes, who said he was almost ready to race after the pre-Christmas European tests, it was business as usual, fastest with a 1’31.097.
“Overall we are happy because Phillip Island is a completely unique circuit and one which is a bit different to my regular riding style,” said Sykes. “We have good feeling over one lap and over distance. Now we have a good set-up we are able to experiment with some parameters, so overall this was a productive day. There was quite a lot of interruption from the rain but tomorrow we have a clear plan of what we can do. This gives us great preparation for the race weekend.”
Sykes agreed that the rain was not heavy at any stage, and the track was more or less dry, but on day one of the tests, most were being careful. “The rain did not make the track really wet, it was more ‘mental’ rain but in turns two, three and five - where they are nearer the coast - the rain was a bit heavier. I think if you really closed your eyes and went for it maybe the lap time was not being affected. In terms of all the riders, and with it being a test, we just relaxed and took it steady. We did the whole session on one tyre to understand out set-up changes.”
On and off the spots of rain caused some anxious moments but the pace continued to improve for most in the afternoon session, as the track remained basically dry.
Just behind the number 66 Kawasaki was the new number 1 rider, Jonathan Rea, who got close to Sykes as he finds his final set-up on the all-new Kawasaki with its lower inertia engine.
Third placed rider Michael van der Mark was on good form on the first CBR1000RR, albeit third fastest overall because of his morning best lap time, not his afternoon version. He set more laps than anyone on the first day, 63.
Jordi Torres (Althea Racing BMW) was a significant 0.429 seconds from Sykes, in fourth place. Significant because that is a relatively large margin but also significant because of all the machines ranged against the KRT pairing, a BMW rider was fourth.
A late charge from Nicky Hayden (Honda World Superbike Team) put him fifth fastest, moving him from outside the top ten to well inside.
A solid first day for the brand now WSBK spec Yamaha R1 saw a new fuel tank design, plus lots of other new tech parts, work well for the returning official team. Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Yamaha Official WSB Yamaha) was sixth and his still recovering team-mate Alex Lowes an equally strong seventh.
The surprise fastest Ducati rider was Barni Racing rider Xavi Fores, eighth, one place ahead of Aruba.it Racing Ducati WSB rider Chaz Davies, and two places ahead of Davide Giugliano’s official bike.
Chaz Davies fell at the exit of turn 12 in the afternoon, suffering no real injury according to his team, but losing some valuable late track-time.
In the morning session Karel Abraham crashed out on his Milwaukee BMW, having a big highside at turn 11. Alex De Angelis (IodaRacing Team Aprilia) was another faller, escaping without injury after his recent recovery from a horrible crash in MotoGP last year. He would end up 20th fastest. His team-mate Lorenzo Savadori was 15th fastest as he makes the jump up from Superstock 1000.
Leon Camier was 13th on his official MV Agusta, and Josh Brookes 14th, the fastest Milwaukee BMW rider. He set a faster time in the morning than the afternoon, like only three other riders.