Wednesday, February 19

KAWASAKI ON TOP, BUT SUZUKI SURPRISES

Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) has topped the second day of pre-season testing at Phillip Island ahead of the opening round of the 2014 eni Superbike World Championship opener.
The Yorkshireman posted a best lap 1min 30.239secs, just a fraction outside Spaniard Carlos Checa’s best ever Superbike lap of the 4.45km circuit – 1:30.234, set in Superpole 3 during the build-up to the 2013 races.

Just 0.848 seconds separated the top 10 riders in the two-day test, with Suzuki’s Eugene Laverty the day one pacesetter second fastest with a best lap of 1:30.513, followed by his impressive team-mate Alex Lowes (1:30.528), who only circulated at Phillip Island for the first time on Monday.

So the previously unfancied GSX-R1000s are back at the front, where they were in 2009!

Marco Melandri, fourth fastest for Aprilia...

Fourth fastest was Italian Marco Melandri, now racing an Aprilia after being left ride-less following the withdrawal of the factory BMW team at the end of 2013.  Melandri’s best was 1m 30.579s.

Making it four different marques in the top five, Davide Guigliano (Ducati) posted a best of 1:30.644 while four other riders dipped into the seriously fast 1 minute 30 second bracket: Kawasaki’s Loris Baz (1:30.757), 2013 Phillip Island winner Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia, 1:30.766), and Honda pair Leon Haslam (1:30.798) and Jonathan Rea (1:30.813).

Rea and Sykes on the Kawasaki completed the most laps over the four 120-minute sessions, logging 128 and 134 laps respectively.

Last year the Superbike men were greeted by a new track surface that saw numerous crashes in testing and also saw Carlos Checa crash in the first race of the series, resulting in injuries that plagued him for most of the season and eventually forced his retirement.

BIG IMPROVEMENT
But to put this year’s testing time in perspective, it was Checa who topped last year’s two day test, with a best of 1: 31.059 on the Panigale.  This year Guigliano has gone four tenths of a second quicker than that, and is still four tenths of a second away from the front…

Last year’s two day test at Phillip Island prior to the opening round of the 2013 eni Superbike World Championship saw Suzuki’s Leon Camier quickest (1m 31 on the first day while Carlos Checa was fastest on the 1199 Ducati Panigale on day two with a best effort of 1m 31.059s. 
That 2013 test saw Sykes fourth fastest on the Provec Kawasaki ZX-10R with a 1m 31.261s effort on a day when the top 11 riders were within a second of each other, and all faster than the SWC lap record of 1m31.7s set by Max Biaggi during the 2012 Phillip Island round.
But Sykes has gone more than a full second quicker this year!  Phillip Island has not proved a particularly happy hunting ground for Sykes and last year his best effort was a pair of fifths.  But looking at this year’s testing times and the fact he logged the most laps of any rider, the ZX-10R Kawasaki definitely looks the bike to beat.


Sykes, seeking to defend his 2013 championship win, set his fast time on Tuesday morning.  He was one of 16 riders in the 25-strong pack who set their fastest time of the test in the cooler morning.
Two days of warm and dry track conditions allowed the official Kawasaki team to get down to work in an organised fashion but there were several red flag incidents across the four sessions and two days, losing all the competitors track time.
Sykes’ Kawasaki team-mate Loris Baz had two falls but recovered well from each to go sixth overall and stay close to his team-mate Sykes in terms of lap times.  Baz still has some final set-up decisions to make with his team when practice starts on Friday February 21.
“I am happy with the results of these two days of testing at Phillip Island.  In the last couple of days we have done a lot of laps to confirm the remaining test items, so to be fastest and be one of the most consistent riders as well, I have to be very happy with that,” said Sykes after the two day test.

Phillip Island has never been our main event, so to speak,” Sykes added.  “So to be up there for pace already is very good.  I know the conditions have caught a lot of people out but I know we can now go to the race weekend with more of a clear understanding of what to do.

“Now we will turn our focus more on performance, pure performance, over the race weekend.  I will go away and have a couple of days winding down and relaxing and come back on Friday morning ready to go again.”

The official Kawasaki Racing Team SBK Evo machine, piloted by David Salom, was the second fastest Evo bike on show in the Phillip Island official tests, and 13th overall in the combined rankings.  
Niccolo Canepa on the Althea Ducati was fastst EVO bike.
Fastest EVO bike was the Ducati 1199 ridden by Niccolo Canepa with a 1:31.373 best effort.

SUZUKI SURPRISE
Eugene Laverty’s appearance at the top of the day one time sheets in his second ride on the GSX-R1000 was a surprise.  Even more surprising was the fact the lap time he logged that day was only beaten by Sykes on the second day.

In fact, Laverty was unable to better himself and on the second day he was sixth fastest.  But he wasn’t shooting for a fast time, he was looking for consistency.

Laverty’s consistently strong form continued throughout the two-day test.  The only rider to break the 1m 31s barrier in the hot final afternoon session, the Irishman’s top times fluctuated by less than five-tenths-of-a-second across each of the four sessions.


Eugene Laverty on the GSX-R1000
Despite the rising 28°C temperatures creating slippery conditions, Laverty continued to dominate in the closing stages.  Setting three 1m 30.8s lap times in the last 15 minutes of action to claim the top-spot in the final session, his fastest time from Monday morning was still strong enough to retain second overall in the combined standings on his Yoshimura-powered GSX-R.

Voltcom Crescent Suzuki used the final pre-season test to concentrate on a number of key refinements ahead of the first weekend of competition at the Australian track.  Working to develop a balance between rear grip and tyre life - both so important at Phillip Island – the team also looked to improve the Suzuki GSX-R’s natural turning, necessary for the circuit’s numerous fast corners.  Refinement of the electronic control strategies to improve power delivery further assisted with rear grip, while Öhlins continued their assistance to the team by trialling new front fork components.  The day’s final session provided the opportunity for the squad to run the first of its sealed race engines for the season, allowing them to bed in ahead of Friday morning’s first timed qualifying session.

Phillip Island rookie, last year’s British Superbike Champion Alex Lowes, was impressed by the fast, flowing Australian circuit.

“It’s an awesome track.  It’s a track that I have dreamed of racing on since I was a kid, watching Mick Doohan in the ’90s race around here and obviously Casey Stoner was awesome round here,” said Lowes, the twin brother of 2013 World Supersport Champion Sam Lowes.
Alex Lowes shows the GWSX-R1000 Suzuki has still got some life in it.

“I was really looking forward to it and it didn’t disappoint.  The last corner I love, the third corner, Stoner Corner is probably one of the best corners I’ve ever ridden around -- it’s great.  It’s quite difficult to learn because of the speed but it’s a fantastic track and a perfect setting,” he said after posting third fastest time on the GSX-R1000 fielded by the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team headed by former MotoGP team boss Paul Denning.

“The whole Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team has been working tirelessly since the last race of 2013 and now it’s nearly time to begin the 2014 season,” Denning said.  “The last two days have given us the opportunity to assess where we are against the competition and to refine some of the new developments on this year’s GSX-R.  There is always a lot to try, many things that could potentially be better but I couldn’t be happier with the riders and the team we are making progress together and improving step by step.  The competition is fierce and the level is very high, but I hope we can be part of the game come Sunday.”

Eight EVO bikes were in action at the test, and other leading lights included Kawasaki pair David Salom and veteran Fabien Foret, who were both ahead of the fully fledged MV Agusta Superbike of Claudio Corti.

MV Agusta is new to the championship in 2014, as is Erik Buell Racing. EBR pair Geoff May and Aaron Yates made massive inroads on day two, although they still concluded the test in 23rd and 24th.

There were few incidents over the two days, with 2013 FIM superstock 1000cc champion, Frenchman Sylvain Barrier (BMW), and Italian Luca Scassa (Kawasaki) already ruled out of round one action with fractured pelvises, while Michel Fabrizio (Kawasaki) remains in hospital as a precaution despite x-rays revealing no signs of injury.  His participation this weekend is still up in the air.

TURK ON FIRE
In World Supersport, world No. 2 and red-hot championship favourite Kenan Sofuoglu of Turkey was the fastest rider in every session, and ended the test with a best of 1:33.506 on his Kawasaki ZX-6R.


Sofuaglu gets down to it on the Kawasaki ZX-6R.
He was followed by American rookie Patrick Jacobsen (1:33.787) – another rider to lap Phillip Island for the first time -- on another Kawasaki, with Michael van der Mark (Honda, 1:33.918) third.

Frenchman Jules Cluzel (1:33.984), back in World Supersport after a year in World Superbikes, was fourth on his 675cc three cylinder MV Agusta after overcoming day one technical problems.  He was ahead of World Supersport debutant Ratthapark Wilairot (Honda, 1:33.987).

Yamaha was well represented by Kev Coghlan (1:34.072) and Italian Fabio Menghi (1:34.233), who finished sixth and seventh respectively.

Australia’s big hope Bryan Staring (Honda) made up three spots – and just over one second -- on day two, stopping the clock at 1:33.733 to finish in 13th.  His compatriots Billy McConnell (Triumph, 1:35.351) and Ryan Taylor (Yamaha, 1:36.969) – both making one-off appearances at Phillip Island this weekend – were 19th and 25th respectively.

After a two-day break, the riders in both world championship categories will return to Phillip Island on Friday for opening practice and qualifying ahead of final qualifying on Saturday and Sunday’s races – an 18-lapper for World Supersport and two 22-lappers for the World Superbike field.


Superbike Test Results: 1. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 1m 30.239s - 177.329 km/h; 2. Eugene Laverty (Suzuki) 1:30.513; 3. Alex Lowes (Suzuki) 1:30.528; 4. Marco Melandri (Aprilia) 1:30.579; 5. Davide Giugliano (Ducati) 1:30.644; 6. Loris Baz (Kawasaki) 1:30.757; 7. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia) 1: 30.766; 8. Leon Haslam (Honda) 1:30.798; 9. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:30.813; 10. Chaz Davies (Ducati) 1:31.087; 11. Nicolo Canepa (Ducati) 1:31.373; 12. Toni Elias (Aprilia) 1: 31.441; 13. David Salom (Kawasaki) 1: 32.008; 14. Fabien Foret (Kawasaki) 1:32.780; 15. Simon Corti (MV Agusta) 1: 32.858; 16. Morais (Kawasaki) 1:32.895; 17. Guarnoni (Kawasaki) 1:32.897; 18. Barrier (BMW) 1:32.997; 19. Andreozzi (Kawasaki) 1:33.205; 20. Scassa (Kawasaki) 1:33.960; 21. Fabrizio (Kawasaki) 1: 34.314; 22. Toth (BMW) 1:34.750; 23. May (EBR) 1: 34.807; 24. Yates (EBR) 1: 36.662; 25. Sebestyen (BMW) 1:42.242.

Supersport Test Results:
1. Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) 1:33.506 average 171.133 km/h; 2. Jacobsen (Kawasaki) 1:33.787; 3. Vd Mark (Honda) 1:33.918; 4. Cluzel (MV Agusta) 1:33.984; 5. Wilairot (Honda) 1:33.987; 6. Coghlan (Yamaha) 1'34.072; 7. Menghi (Yamaha) 1'34.233; 8. Leonov (MV Agusta) 1'34.295; 9. Tamburini (Kawasaki) 1'34.301; 10. Kennedy (Honda) 1'34.393; 11. Russo (Honda) 1'34.550; 12. Zanetti (Honda) 1'34.591; 13. Staring (Honda) 1'34.733; 14. Marino (Kawasaki) 1'34.747; 15. De Rosa (Honda) 1'34.834; 16. Wahr (Yamaha) 1'35.152; 17. Gamarino (Kawasaki) 1'35.320; 18. Gowland (Triumph) 1'35.324; 19. McConnell (Triumph) 1'35.351; 20. Calero (Honda) 1'35.370; 21. Bussolotti (Honda) 1'35.533; 22. Coveña (Kawasaki) 1'35.599; 23. Rolfo (Kawasaki) 1'35.740; 24. Rogers (Honda) 1'36.956; 25. Taylor (Yamaha) 1'36.969; 26. Ivanov (Yamaha) 1'37.123.