Sunday, February 17


THE new surface at Phillip Island has seen vastly improved lap times as the Superbike World Championship teams test at the Australian circuit ahead of next weekend’s opening round of the 2013 Eni Superbike World Championship.

However, it seems the new, grippier surface is a double-edged sword, with several riders coming to grief in the high-speed turns leading to Gardner Straight, the most spectacular being Suzuki rider Leon Camier who somehow managed to lob his GSX-R1000 over the tyre wall and clear out to the tree line at the outer boundary of the circuit!

On February 14, his FIXI Crescent Suzuki team-mate Jules Cluzel crashed and gashed his arm, then Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes, runner-up in the 2012 championship to Max Biaggi, crashed and sustained a fracture in his left wrist.  He was unable to take part in the second day of testing, but the Spanish Kawasaki team hopes he will be fit for the official tests at the Australian circuit this coming week.

Carlos Checa, the 2011 Superbike World Champion, was unable to take part in either the Thursday or Friday tests on the new Ducati Panigale fielded by the Alstare team due to a stomach ailment so testing duties fell to his team-mate, Ayrton Badovini.  Just as he was getting to grips with the all-new Ducati, Badovini was high-sided at the crest of Lukey Heights on the morning of the second test day.  He hit the deck hard enough to knock the wind out of him and it was initially suspected he had broken ribs.  Fortunately that proved not the case but he was unable to ride the rest of the day.

Meantime Leon Camier, the 2009 British Superbike Champion, gashed his elbow and wrist in a crash late on Thursday, after setting the second fastest lap time of the day on the FIXI Crescent Suzuki with a lap of 1m 31.9s.

Brushing off the crash, Camier continued his good Thursday form by setting fastest (unofficial) lap time on Friday on the FIXI Crescent Suzuki.  The Englishman of French extraction was clocked at 1m 32.2s - half a second under the official lap record set by Max Biaggi in the first race at last year’s season opener.  Biaggi’s lap record time is 1m 31.785s at an average speed of 174.342 km/h.

The fastest ever Superbike lap of Phillip Island stands to Carlos Checa at 1m 30.882s, an average of 176.074 km/h.  Checa set that time on the Althea Ducati 1198R in Superpole 3 at the 2011 season opener.

Camier produced his fastest lap time on Friday morning using a race tyre.  According to the Crescent Suzuki team, he then followed that up with an equally impressive and highly competitive race simulation and was the only rider to complete such a run.  The FIXI Crescent Suzuki star also ended the day in spectacular style as he was pushing hard - and already 0.4-of-a-second under his best time - before he was involved in a very high-speed crash on the last corner of his last lap of the day.  He lost the front of his machine and saw the bike disappear over the gravel trap and tyre wall, before coming to rest in the trees that surround the picturesque circuit!  Camier again escaped unscathed, which was more than could be said for his FIXI Crescent Suzuki!

Camier and his crew will now assess the data gathered from the Yoshimura-powered GSX-R1000 over the two days, before the team takes to the track again on Monday for a further two-day test.  Camier will certainly be looking to build on his impressive start to the season as he heads toward the first race of 2013 next weekend.

Jules Cluzel was absent from Friday’s events following a big crash on Thursday which led to him being admitted to hospital in Melbourne for a small operation to repair damage to his left elbow.  The procedure was successful and Cluzel plans to be back on-track for the two-day official test that starts on Monday.

"The day started off really well and we got down to some good times" said Camier.  "The bike felt really comfortable, we improved it a little bit chassis wise and the electronics are slowly getting better.  We also did a race run.  I was not really pushing it, but just trying to be comfortable and the keep the lap-times consistent.  We can still improve the race pace and I think I can do a bit of that through my riding.  At the end of the day we had a massive crash when I was pushing for a really fast lap - I just got caught out by the wind.  The bike was absolutely totalled, so the boys have got a lot of work to do!  Hopefully we'll be back up to speed as soon as we get back on track on Monday."

“The high speed of the Phillip Island track, combined with the new high-grip but more unpredictable surface has caught out a lot of riders over these two-days and with two crashes each for our guys, we were very much involved in the carnage,” FIXI Crescent Suzuki team manager Paul Denning acknowledged.

“Jules was operated on by renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Weymouth on Friday and he’ll be able to ride – even if he is a little bit restricted in his movement – in the Official Test on Monday.  As a rookie to the Superbike class it’s not good to lose a full day of testing, but he showed huge speed – maybe a bit too much speed – on Thursday and we will approach the test next week very calmly and in a step-by-step manner to re-build his confidence.  We all have to make sure that we remember that the championship is 15-rounds long and it doesn’t all hinge on what Jules does here at Phillip Island next weekend.

“Leon tested alone today and was absolutely flying all day.  The bike is working well, the 2013 engine which we’ve developed with Yoshimura is in a different league to what we had here last year, and the whole package appears to be properly competitive.  Leon’s 31.2 best lap was impressive, but more important for the team was the superb data we gathered from the race simulation run, in-which Leon kept the times all within the 32-second bracket.  Phillip Island is so tough on rear tyres, so the consistency bodes well for the race weekend.  The huge crash at over 200 km/h at the final corner could have put a big dampener on an otherwise positive test, but the sight of Leon up on his feet and basically ok, except for a few bumps and bruises, was a huge relief.  We can replace the metal and the carbon fibre, but we can’t replace Leon!”

Despite the stock Suzuki GSX-R1000 being little changed since its 2009 release, the bike has always been one of the best handling machines in the Superbike World Championship and in 2010, Englishman Leon Haslam led the points chase for almost half the season before being over-powered by the Aprilia factory bike of Max Biaggi.

At Phillip Island in 2010, Haslam was spectacular at the entry to the high-speed Doohan Corner at the end of Gardner Straight, clearly confident with the GSX-R1000’s chassis geometry which gave superb mechanical grip.  No one was faster at that corner than Haslam, with his then team-mate Sylvain Guintoli also displaying great form there that year.  If Suzuki had given the Alstare team running the GSX-R1000 some much needed backing back then, Haslam may well have taken the four cylinder Suzuki to the championship win.

The Alstare team soldiered on in 2011 with Italian Michel Fabrizio, who proved unable to approach Haslam’s results on the Suzuki, and then withdrew from the series.

Englishman Paul Denning then took up the Suzuki challenge, fielding Camier and busted up ex-MotoGP rider John Hopkins on the Crescent Suzukis last year.  But Hopkins sustained further injury and has since retired.  Camier has now been joined by former Moto2 GP rider Jules Cluzel, who raced a PTR Honda CBR600 in last year’s Supersport World Championship.

Meantime, Francis Batta has re-formed the Alstare team for 2013 and is running the official Ducati effort with Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini.  The team has a huge task ahead of it in its efforts to turn the ultra short-stroke 1199cc Panigale into a competitive and reliable Superbike against teams that have been steadily refining the same machines for up to five years.  Indeed, Ducati may rue its decision not to have re-homologated the tried and tested steel-tube framed 1198R for this season.

“For me, this is the first real test for the team as a whole - that is all the mechanics working together - and although the bike is new and very different to any previous Ducati, I am very happy with how this project is going,” said Francis Batta, the Team SBK Ducati Alstare Owner.

“It is a complex project, but a beautiful one and we’re all really looking forward to making it work as well as we can.  It is unfortunate that Carlos couldn’t ride at all.  He suffered some sort of stomach problem the day after he arrived in Australia.  Possibly it was something to do with jet-lag, the air-conditioning on the plane and the change of temperature.  He went to hospital, but there are no big problems and we expect him to be back for the tests next week and then the race afterwards.  Ayrton made a good start.  He took things steadily, but used his head and kept improving.  He gave the team a lot of information, so it was a shame that he crashed and couldn’t ride for the rest of the day.  He has went to hospital (a different one to Carlos).  We don’t think there are any problems but await the hospital’s confirmation.  I’m a little frustrated because we couldn’t do as much development work as we wanted, but I am very happy about how well the collaboration with Ducati has been going over these days and we’re all looking forward to getting back on track next week.”

After winning at Assen, Silverstone and Magny-Cours with two different Ducati teams last year, Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli will race alongside Irishman Eugene Laverty in this year’s Eni Superbike World Championship on a factory Aprilia V4.  Sixth fastest in the first private test day at Phillip Island, Guintoli out did his team-mate to record the second fastest lap on Friday, February 15, with a 1m 31.3s effort.  That was a full second better than his first day’s best. 

Behind him was PATA Honda CBR1000 rider Jonathan Rea (1m 31.4s) followed by Italian Marco Melandri on the BMW Motorrad GoldBet S1000RR with a 1m 31.6s effort, just head of Red Devils Roma Aprilia V4 rider Michel Fabrizio.

The Italian BMW team was definitely more interested in gathering data than gaining bragging rights, with Melandri completing114 laps (507 km) on his S1000RR while team-mate Chaz Davies did 125 laps (556 km).

Andrea Dosoli, Technical Director BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK Team, was happy with the data gathered over the two days,

“Finally we got the chance to test in good weather conditions, though it was a bit windy on Friday.  Both days were positive for us.  Both crews tried various items and parts for the chassis, engine and electronics.  Over these two days, we were able to complete a lot of work and we found a good base for the official test next week, when we start to work on the fine-tuning.  As Marco was not one hundred per cent fit with his shoulder, we planned a slightly reduced schedule for him and selected the most important parts for him to test.  Once we were satisfied with the feedback we decided to stop testing on his side.

“The new surface on the track is smoother but it is also abrasive and is affecting the tyre life.  But usually the first day of practice on new asphalt is difficult and normally it gets better day by day, so we think that it will improve for the race over the next couple of testing days.  Both Marco and Chaz improved their performance with every outing, both showed good speed and, what is even more important, they were quite consistent.  Overall the test was positive, but we have still some more work to do to be one hundred per cent prepared for next weekend.  The base is good and we are confident that with two more days of testing we will be ready for the race.”