The two-day private test session for Australian riders wrapped up today (February 14, 2014) under blue skies at Phillip Island.
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Riders said the track had less grip today than yesterday, but the main complaint was too many close calls with huge geese on the racing line. With most of Phillip Island browned off through summer, the geese have taken haven at the track as it still has plenty of green grass. The geese do not seem to be bothered at all by the motorcycles, but the riders were certainly getting hot and bothered by the geese.

Nonetheless, most riders got plenty of testing laps in without major incident. Jamie Stauffer the only faller (to our knowledge), a front end lose at turn four after trying some suspension changes that obviously didn’t quite work out on the new CBR1000RR Fireblade SP.

The hard luck story of the week goes to Murray Clarke. The 49-year-old North Queensland Suzuki rider suffered from gear selection problems yesterday, then a persistent oil leak had him scratching his head this morning before an eventual engine failure saw him pack up early. Ben Henry has kindly offered to lease him an engine so he can get on the grid next weekend.

Consistently fastest throughout the test was Josh Hook. A string of low 33s and a 33.0 yesterday saw him on the pace and the Taree youngster worked his way down to 32.8s today.

Hook; “We had pretty good conditions here and it was great to get out on the new Honda CBR1000RR SP. It proved itself a good package straight out of the box, we didn’t have to do a lot to it to get on the pace straight up. The team has worked really hard and I believe we have a good package leading up to the support races at the World Superbike round here next weekend, I am looking forward to it too.

“I don’t think the track was in as good a condition as it could have been, it was a bit slick and the grip wasn’t there, so hopefully we can go a bit faster at the World Superbikes. The time I ended up with today was still pretty respectable, which is what we did at the GP last year when the track was fast, and the last couple of days it wasn’t so good so I am pretty stoked with getting that time under these conditions.”; You came on really strong at the end of last year, is this the year to be ‘your’ year…? This is when you have to bring it home?

For sure, I have a lot more pressure this year, I am not the rookie any more so there is no excuse,  I have to have a go this year and I need to win some races and hopefully take out the championship.

“I haven’t been to a few of the tracks that we will be riding at this year so it is going to be a little bit difficult, but they are small tracks which tend to suit the Honda quite well, so I think we should be fine and I am looking forward to it.”

It is clear that Hooky is going to be a force to be reckoned with this year.

Jamie Stauffer put a huge amount of laps in over the two days and worked through a busy schedule of trial and error changes to the new Fireblade SP model.

I’ve got some blisters and stuff happening, I haven’t ridden for quite a while so it is was good to get out there and do some laps. We didn’t end up going overly fast, but have a direction we need to go in; we have the new suspension and new tyres so it is a lot to work through. We just tried changing bits and pieces and seeing where we were at and it should work out okay when we get out on track for the World Superbikes.

“The track didn’t have as much grip today for some reason but come race day the track should have plenty of grip if the weather is good and we will see how we go.”; You had a little slip off at turn four today, was that a chatter issue?

Just as I got off the brakes the front let go; we had made a bit of a change to the front and yeah, it wasn’t the right way obviously [laughs], we know that now, it was a fairly easy one so we will see how we go in the race.”

While both Jamie and Josh were shaking down the new SP model Fireblades, more recent recruit back to Team Honda Wayne Maxwell, spent plenty of time on track getting back on friendly terms with last year’s Fireblade, albeit a different relationship than when he spent his previous time at Team Honda with different suspension and tyres than last time he was with Paul Free’s Motologic crew. Wayne will not throw a leg over the new SP model until the team goes testing at Wakefield Park next month, prior to the opening round of the Australasian Superbike Championship.

I got down to 33.3s today, it is not where I thought we could get to but in retrospect, compared to everyone else here this week it is a reasonable time. 

“We seemed to be making changes and not improving, so we need to go away and have a think about it, come up with some ideas next week for World Superbikes and try to get all three Honda Fireblades on the podium.”

NextGen Motorsports BMW had only one rider in attendance, two-time Australian Superbike Champion Glenn Allerton another vocal critic of the wildlife at Phillip Island. The BMW squad packed up a little early today before we got a chance to have a chat with Glenn but we believe the pace of the BMW today was low-mid 33s.

Sean Condon was, we believe, the quickest of the non ASBK regular stars. The 24-year-old spent most of last season recovering from a shoulder reconstruction. The Kawasaki ZX-10R rider got down to a 34.6 on Dunlop tyres while chasing a set-up for next weekend’s World Superbike round. I asked him what his goals were for season 2014, and it’s clear Condon is aiming high; “Obviously to win the Australasian Superbike Championship.”

Mike Jones spent the week getting a handle on his new Crazy Dogs Kawasaki ZX-10R. After spending 2013 based in Germany while contesting the European 600cc Superstock Championship with RaceDays Honda, the Brisbane based rider is getting to grips with a 1000cc bike for the first time. “Had a great day, managed to get under the [ProStock] lap record again today, as I did yesterday. I am very happy with the progress, the more time I spend in the seat the more I feel comfortable on it. XXX Rated suspension is working well and I am looking forward to the World Superbike weekend.” Jones turns 20-years-old later this month and claimed a 34.5 as his best time today.

Ben Henry got down to consistent 1m35.0s on his brand new ZX-10R. Only 8-tenths off the best time he did on his previous Superbike spec’ Suzuki on what is essentially an almost standard unopened ZX-10R. I asked him if he thought he might get close to his Superbike times next weekend; “I think for the race we will go a fair bit quicker than our 35s today. I have some engine tuning to do during the week as according to the data, I am losing that 8-tenths between turn 12 and turn one, so I am way down on speed. I don’t think I will continue to lose that much, but to get down to 34.2 on a standard bike would be pretty fast… This bike has only got spark plugs, an air filter, and a little can off the back; still has standard headers, ECU, loom , etc.”

Dustin Goldsmith was also ZX-10R mounted and the Gosford based rider chased numerous technical gremlins over the two days and with no mechanic present was left to twirl the spanners himself. “The guys that normally help out couldn’t make it this week; Got a bit of help from Al and Phil Lovett and the boys during the test. About half a second off the pace for ProStock ranks here today, got down to 34.9, not really fast enough but should be right come race day.”

Evergreen 56-year-old Phil Lovett was back in action on a ZX-10R Kawasaki and plans to contest the FX series this year ,and perhaps the Queensland and Phillip Island rounds of ASBK as the enduro legend from yesteryear plans to attend the IOM TT when the Darwin round of ASBK is contested, “I didn’t get down to my personal best today but got around all right, be around the back of the pack somewhere I guess come race day.”; What are your goals for this season and what keeps you motivated to bring you back again this year?

Just to get better, and chasing young blokes around makes me feel young enough.”

Fitmoto’s Stephen Mion was getting his head around Corey Snowsill’s old ZX-10R and is making the step up from ProStock level machinery to a full spec’ Superbike. Mion will not contest the Australian Championship but will concentrate on Victorian events and aims to get down below 37s after a best of 39s during this week’s testing.

In the Supersport ranks a heady mix of young talent, primarily on Yamaha YZF-R6 machinery, put themselves and their machines through the paces in readiness for the Phillip Island round of the Superbike World Championship next weekend at Phillip Island.

Ryan Taylor had a slightly different objective as he and his crew worked their way through a busy two-days of preparation work in readiness for their World Supersport wildcard entry. It is fair to say Taylor’s garage was the busiest over the two-days, a veritable non-stop hive of activity with bikes in various states of undress, engines being built, suspension pulled apart and laptops being studied. The Victorian declined to mention the times achieved today.

Taylor; “We have been working on some engine settings and getting a good setting for tyre life. The team is working well, everyone is doing a good job.  Biggest thanks to Stu and SW, and the rest of the team, Harley, Pete, Sam, Wayne Howe for doing the data, the first time I have ridden with data so that was interesting.” Taylor and his crew will go away and work over the weekend before returning for the official World Superbike/Supersport test sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

Matt Davies was busy preparing for his first real senior season in Australia after spending most of his time in the senior ranks contesting various European categories, including a year in World Supersport last year. The West Wyalong based rider was offered a wildcard ride for next weekend but with a $37,000 price attached, decided that putting that budget towards a full domestic Supersport season at home was the much smarter career choice. Ben Reid has prepared the machine for him and Davies believes it will be one of the best bikes in the field and is aiming to win races this season before stepping up to a 1000cc bike in the future. Today was also a bit of a milestone for the Davies family as they took over their local Honda shop which will be re-branded Davies Motorcycles. After only turning 18 last month, Davies clearly has a big future ahead of him and will surely progress from the 37.0 he managed today when the lights go out next weekend

Michael Blair, yet another quick NSW teenager with their sights set high in 2014, also spent a busy two-days testing. The Central Coast rider finished third in the Australian Supersport Championship last year and won the Queensland round. Blair got down into the mid 36s and will be a favourite for the FX Supersport Title this year.

Another promising Yamaha mounted youngster also spent plenty of time in the 36s today. XXX Rated Suspension supported Callum Spriggs claimed consistent low 36s and was another rider troubled by the Phillip Island wildlife; “Today was a success with Xxx Rated Suspension changing a few things and I managed to get even lower times today. Consistent low 36 so I am flying back home to Queensland confident with the bike set-up heading into World Supers next week. Nearly took out a huge goose on track so hoping the geese are all gone by next weekend too!”

Aiden Wagner found the going a little slippery today compared to yesterday but also mentioned low 36s when quizzed for lap times; “I’d Just like to thank Mr XXX Rated Race Suspension for all his work over the last week! Wouldn’t have had such a successful week without his and the team’s help, it has been unreal. 

“Today’s test was great, just changed a few small things on the bike, dialling it in just that little bit more. Really looking forward to the race weekend. 

“Hopefully all those huge geese and birds get out of the way on the big weekend, they were pretty dangerous and they don’t seem to be that scared of motorcycles moving well over 200km/h and it could end up pretty bad if someone collects one of those.”

The sole Suzuki rider present at the test was Hudson Pitt. The South Australian spent plenty of time testing suspension components, including a completely new latest generation Ohlins TTX (yes a very new version of the TTX) shock as yet unavailable to most machines in the paddock, but secured through suspension specialist Steve Mudford. Pitt still struggled for speed compared to the dominant Yamahas; “We learned a lot about the bike, we progressed quickly at the beginning of the test but hit some problems as we progressed, a chatter problem plagued us today that we need to sort out and if we get on top of that we should have a pretty good weekend at the World Superbike meeting.”

Australian Supersport Champion Daniel Falzon chose to play his cards close to his chest and refused to quote his fastest time but was happy enough to say the following; “We are very happy with the days testing and achieved everything that we planned. I did my PB time and was finding 36s quite easy, so it looks like we will be very competitive.”  Just how fast the #1 plate holder managed to go will be a matter for conjecture during the week, we will just have to wait until next weekend to find out just how quick the South Australian went….