Graham Jarvis

—  WSBK ready to rock P.I.
—  Will the new surface bring new lap records?

All the elements are in place for the Australia’s fastest world superbike race in history – and a smorgasbord of record-busting laps — when the 2013 Superbike World Championship (WSBK) is held at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit next weekend (February 22-24).

The expected rewriting of the record books is due to a recent resurface of the 4.445km racetrack, which has already produced a new historic lap record at the International Island Classic in late January, with dozens of other riders also carving out personal bests at the event on the new, ultra-smooth tarmac.

We’ll soon get an inkling of what could be in store for the WSBK fraternity with four days of testing underway at Phillip Island – private tests on ThurSday and Friday of this week followed by two officially timed days next Monday and Tuesday (Feb 18 and 19) – before the teams and riders kick off their 2013 season next Friday (Feb 22-24).

Phillip Island’s current outright lap record is held by MotoGP rider Nicky Hayden with a 1:30.059, and the WSBK benchmark is Max Biaggi’s 1:31.785 set in 2012 on his Aprilia.

The last time a WSBK round was held after a full track resurface – 1999 – Australia’s Troy Corser lopped an amazing 2.423 seconds off New Zealander Aaron Slight’s previous lap record.

Although it would be unrealistic to make the same quantum leap 14 years later, the possibility remains that a WSBK machine could usurp Hayden’s outright lap record to claim the ultimate Phillip Island bragging rights – and a lap time in the 1:29 bracket would be icing on the cake.

The Phillip Island WSBK grid will include factory teams from Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW, Ducati, Aprilia and Honda, fielding riders who have won 65 races between them.

And with 2012 world champion Max Biaggi now settled into retirement, Phillip Island will witness the first shots in finding a new No. 1 in 2013, with the talent pool featuring Ducati’s Carlos Checa, Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes, Honda’s Jonathan Rea, BMW’s Marco Melandri, Suzuki’s Leon Camier and Aprilia’s Eugene Laverty.

There will be two 22-lap WSBK races on February 24, plus the opening race of the Supersport World Championship – the latter featuring a bumper crop of 36 riders.

Local fans will have plenty to cheer about at the island with six hard-charging Australians competing in the world championship classes: Jamie Stauffer (Honda) and Glenn Allerton (BMW) in Superbike, with Kevin Curtain (Yamaha), Mitchell Carr (Triumph), Josh Hook (Honda) and Matt Davies (Honda) in Supersport.

Checa, seventh on the all-time WSBK winners’ list with 24 victories, literally owns the Phillip Island real estate and has won four of the last six races around the circuit, and he can just as easily return to normal service on February 24 – even though his all-new factory Ducati is still under-developed.

But based on blazing pre-season form, Sykes, who lost the 2012 title by just half-a-point, could do the most damage at Phillip Island, and that includes consigning the current WSBK lap record – and perhaps the outright benchmark – into the annals of history.

Australia’s three-time Superbike champion Shawn Giles set the new historic lap record at the International Island Classic on his Suzuki Katana, lowering it from 1:38.666 to 1:36.920. And he believes the WSBK riders are next in line to go on a record-breaking spree and make it the fastest local round in history.

“When you consider that the fastest domestic Superbike riders have got down into the low 1:32s on much lower-spec race bikes on the old surface, you’d have to expect the WSBK riders to go appreciably faster and maybe even set a new outright lap record on February 24,” said Giles who will compete in Historic support action at the world superbikes.

“The new surface is just so smooth, and at the Island Classic all the riders pretty much went fast straight away – across all parts of the circuit, not just bits and pieces,” said Giles.

“Undoubtedly, the biggest issue will be getting tyres to work at their optimum, especially through the fast left-hand turns such as 11 and 12 and Stoner Corner (turn three). There’s certainly going to be plenty of intrigue.”

The on-track action at Phillip Island from February 22-24 will be completed by the opening rounds of the Australian Prostock and Supersport Championships, as well as events for national Superbike and Historic competitors. The on-track action commences before 9.00am on all three days of the event.

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