Tom Sykes concludes pre-season in top shape
World champion Tom Sykes has rounded off the world superbike pre-season in the best possible shape by setting the fastest time in a two-day test session at Phillip Island ahead of the opening round back at the grand prix circuit this weekend (February 21-23).
Sykes, who in 2013 won Kawasaki’s first world superbike title since 1993, was one of 16 riders in the 25-strong pack who set their fastest time of the test in today’s opening session, as the mild track conditions allowed riders to really get down to some serious business.
Sykes’ best lap was 1min32.239secs, just a fraction outside Spaniard Carlos Checa’s best ever lap of the 4.45km circuit – 1:31.234, set in 2013.
Sykes is now the warm favourite heading into round one action, although Phillip Island hasn’t been the happiest hunting ground for the amiable Briton in past seasons – and there’s a hungry pack just waiting to make his title defence a hard one.
“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, so to be up there for pace already is very good. I know the conditions have caught a lot of people out already 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.”
Just 0.848 seconds separated the top 10 riders in the two-day test, with Suzuki’s Eugene Laverty — the day one pacesetter – concluding proceedings in second with a best lap of 1:30.513, followed by his ultra-impressive rookie teammate Alex Lowes (1:30.528), who only circulated at Phillip Island for the first time yesterday.
“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.
“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.”
Marco Melandri (Aprilia, 1:30.579) and Davide Guigliano (Ducati, 1:30.644) made it a quartet of marques in the top five, while four other riders dipped into the seriously fast 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 completed the most laps over the four 120-minute sessions, logging 128 and 134 laps respectively.
Briton Chaz Davies (Ducati) was 10th fastest with a best lap of 1:31.087, ahead of the leading EVO machine of Niccolo Canepa (Ducati, 1:31.373).
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.
In world supersport, world No. 2 and red-hot championship favourite Kenan Sofuoglu was the fastest rider in every session, and ended the test with a best of 1:33.506, 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) in third.
Frenchman Jules Cluzel (1:33.984), back in world supersport after a year in world superbikes, was fourth on his 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 Monday – Tuesday
- Sykes (Kawasaki) 1’30.239 average 177.329 kph
- Laverty (Suzuki) 1’30.513
- Lowes (Suzuki) 1’30.528
- Melandri (Aprilia) 1’30.579
- Giugliano (Ducati) 1’30.644
- Baz (Kawasaki) 1’30.757
- Guintoli (Aprilia) 1’30.766
- Haslam (Honda) 1’30.798
- Rea (Honda) 1’30.813
- Davies (Ducati) 1’31.087
- Canepa (Ducati) 1’31.373
- Elias (Aprilia) 1’31.441
- Salom (Kawasaki) 1’32.008
- Foret (Kawasaki) 1’32.780
- Corti (MV Agusta) 1’32.858
- Morais (Kawasaki) 1’32.895
- Guarnoni (Kawasaki) 1’32.897
- Barrier (BMW) 1’32.997
- Andreozzi (Kawasaki) 1’33.205
- Scassa (Kawasaki) 1’33.960
- Fabrizio (Kawasaki) 1’34.314
- Toth (BMW) 1’34.750
- May (EBR) 1’34.807
- Yates (EBR) 1’36.662
- Sebestyen (BMW) 1’42.242.
Supersport Monday – Tuesday
- Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) 1’33.506 average 171.133 kph
- Jacobsen (Kawasaki) 1’33.787
- Vd Mark (Honda) 1’33.918
- Cluzel (MV Agusta) 1’33.984
- Wilairot (Honda) 1’33.987
- Coghlan (Yamaha) 1’34.072
- Menghi (Yamaha) 1’34.233
- Leonov (MV Agusta) 1’34.295
- Tamburini (Kawasaki) 1’34.301
- Kennedy (Honda) 1’34.393
- Russo (Honda) 1’34.550
- Zanetti (Honda) 1’34.591
- Staring (Honda) 1’34.733
- Marino (Kawasaki) 1’34.747
- De Rosa (Honda) 1’34.834
- Wahr (Yamaha) 1’35.152
- Gamarino (Kawasaki) 1’35.320
- Gowland (Triumph) 1’35.324
- McConnell (Triumph) 1’35.351
- Calero (Honda) 1’35.370
- Bussolotti (Honda) 1’35.533
- Coveña (Kawasaki) 1’35.599
- Rolfo (Kawasaki) 1’35.740
- Rogers (Honda) 1’36.956
- Taylor (Yamaha) 1’36.969
- Ivanov (Yamaha) 1’37.123
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) left the final official test session of the pre-season as fastest rider of all, with his team-mate Loris Baz and KRT Evo rider David Salom also setting good lap times.
Sykes, who will be out to defend his champion status, set a 1’30.239 on Tuesday morning, which was very close to the circuit best lap, and proved to be the fastest lap of the tests.
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 of testing, losing all the competitors useful track time.
Baz had two falls in these tests but recovered well from each to go sixth overall, and stay close to his team-mate Sykes in terms of lap times. Loris still has some final set-up decisions to make with his team when practice starts on Friday 21st February, to make sure he faces two races on Sunday 23rd in the best possible way.
The official Kawasaki Racing Team SBK Evo machine, under the confident control of David Salom, was the second fastest Evo bike on show in the Phillip Island official tests, and 13th overall in the combined rankings.
The two Superbike races will get underway on Sunday 23rd, with all KRT riders eager to take on the challenge in what is expected to be a closely fought season. There are no less than eight manufacturers represented on the 2014 grid at the first flyaway round.
Tom Sykes: “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. Phillip Island has never been our main event, so to speak, so to be up there for pace already is very good. I know the conditions have caught a lot of people out already 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.”
Loris Baz: “Not too bad overall even though I had two falls. I lost the front today on a new setting and missed most of the session. I lost a bit of feeling at that time but I was fifth in the second session this afternoon and the lap times are really close. We have some good information and we know what we can do for the race. We will also have a wider choice of tyres for the race which should help us.”
David Salom: “Things went well and it was a little too hot in the afternoon to improve the lap time again. But in all the sessions we have worked well and the team has improved many aspects of our set-up. We have done a very good job so far. We need some more work on Friday to make the bike a bit better again. We tried front fork setting changes, rear suspension changes, so we know we can still find improvements. I am ready to go into race weekend now.”
Marcel Duinker, Tom Sykes’ Crew Chief: “We had a good two days of work and I am happy how it went. This is not our preferred track but we are one of the fastest and most consistent, so we have to be pleased with that. We are ready to race and made all our final confirmations in these tests.”
Pere Riba, Loris Baz’s Crew Chief: “On the first day Loris was very fast straightaway, for pure pace and for rhythm. We found some wear on the tyres so we had to concentrate to help the tyre life. We made some changes to the bike to help the rear but then Loris lost the front. This final afternoon was OK, but we have to keep working. The lap time is there and his pace is not so bad, so I am confident and happy for the weekend and we will keep working hard.
Toni Alfosea, David Salom’s Crew Chief: “Our tests were good and although we were not the fastest Evo bike so far, we were second fastest. We worked very well and have been setting consistently good lap times. I think we have a very good set-up already and a strong base to start official practice with. David has really started to understand what is a good style of riding for this kind of bike after riding a smaller bike last year.”
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki concluded the two-day eni FIM Superbike World Championship official test at Phillip Island with both riders in the top three overall after Alex Lowes claimed second place in the final day’s timings.
Lowes looked determined from the outset of this morning’s first session and continued to improve steadily on yesterday’s performance, setting a time of 1’30.5 to match his team-mate’s best from the previous day. Laverty’s consistently strong form continued throughout the two-day test. The only rider to break the 1’31 barrier in the final afternoon session, the Irishman’s top times fluctuated by less than five-tenths-of-a-second across each of the four sessions.
Despite the rising 28°C temperatures creating slippery conditions on track, Laverty continued to dominate in the closing stages. Setting three 1’30.8 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.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki will now debrief and prepare for the opening round of the eni FIM Superbike World Championship on February 23rd, with both Lowes and Laverty coming to form in readiness for this year’s inaugural races.
Eugene Laverty: “Good day today, good test in all. We’ve been trying a lot of things and probably the biggest step we made was right at the end. In the last 15 minutes we made a big improvement with the rear settings so I’m really happy to finish the test on a high and to make good lap-times in the high temperatures. We have some detailed stuff to try over the race weekend but in general I’m very happy to be riding the Suzuki and we’ll keep pushing hard to improve further.”
Alex Lowes: “The test has been good. I’m happy to be in the top-three overall over the two-days. I’ve worked really hard, I was consistent this afternoon, we had a few issues but it would be impossible not to be happy really. I don’t think many people expected me to be this close already and with a couple of days to reflect we should be in a stronger position for the weekend. I’m loving riding the GSX-R, it’s a bike you can really push and it seems to be a bit like me – the harder it’s worked the better it goes! Thanks to everyone on the team, we have a great atmosphere and I’m enjoying myself.”
Paul Denning – Team Manager: “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. 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.”
There are only a few days left before the start of Superbike 2014 which will open hostilities this weekend at Phillip Island where riders and teams have already been busy for two days of testing.
For Aprilia Racing – the Italian Reigning Manufacturer World Champion and winner of 5 world titles in 4 seasons – this was the first opportunity to lap in good climatic conditions after the negative impact the weather had on the winter sessions at Portimao and Jerez. So some intense work was done without any hindrances in order to be as ready as possible when the lights turn green for the first time this season.
For Marco Melandri, in his first year astride the Aprilia RSV4, these two days can be considered positive in no uncertain terms. The rider from Ravenna, in addition to finishing the tests with the fourth best time, put in 123 laps to complete a testing schedule aimed at “moulding” the powerful Italian superbike to his needs. Consistently fast, Marco focused primarily on finding his best race pace, trying to optimise the long distance setup. In fact, tyre wear is an incredibly important factor on the fast and demanding Australian track. Being consistent throughout the entire race will therefore be a must. Despite the good times he put in, Melandri knows that there is still room for improvement and he’ll be working with his team on that from the first test sessions on Friday.
Marco Melandri: “We were finally able to lap in good weather! I’m pleased because we completed the scheduled programme, gathering a lot of information from the test sessions. Now we just have to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to find the best place to start for the weekend. I think I have a good race pace. There are still a few spots on the track that give me problems but I’m confident that we’ll be able to improve. I need to focus on the fast lap for the qualifiers because starting from at least the front two rows will be very important. I definitely can’t wait to finally get back to serious business”.
The unknown factor for Sylvain Guintoli was without a doubt his physical condition after the double surgery on his right shoulder. From this point of view the 92 laps the French rider put in confirm that his recovery is complete. Sylvain was also positive about these tests in terms of performance. The pace he demonstrated even in poor grip conditions places him among the potential key players for the first round of the season. Guintoli’s feeling with the bike are similar to those last year when he took a win and a second place on his maiden race astride the Aprilia RSV4 which placed him at the top of the rider standings.
Sylvain Guintoli: “The most important thing is that I am feeling much better physically. The previous tests at Jerez went well too, but after the crash there and when I got back home my shoulder was hurting for a few days. Here, on the other hand, I took a lot of laps over these two days, doing the tests that we had planned and even putting in some decent times. In the afternoon, in similar conditions to what we’ll probably have for the races, my RSV4 performed very well both in terms of general settings and tyre wear management. I’m confident and, just like last year, I’m ready for battle”.
The opening round of the FIM Superbike World Championship will shortly take place at Phillip Island in Australia, on Sunday 23 February, with two strong official Honda entries ready to race after the recent two day official championship tests on 17 and 18 February.
Leon Haslam (Pata Honda World Superbike Team) and Jonathan Rea will team up for their second year on the latest CBR1000RR, with Rea now heading for his sixth straight season with Honda in SBK racing.
Haslam will embark on his second season with Pata Honda a little bumped and bruised after a big crash on the second day of testing but he escaped complications to his 2013 leg injury. Leon was eighth in the combined times after official testing, one place ahead of his team-mate Rea.
Each rider is keen to get back to the circuit on Friday to make final set-up changes and tyre evaluations, with the Phillip Island track surface notoriously hard on tyres, especially in the hot afternoon conditions experienced at these tests.
The 4.448KM Phillip Island circuit in Australia will host the Superbike World Championship for the 24th time in the 27-year history of the championship, but it will be a new-look championship in some key regards this coming season.
A host of technical regulation changes have arrived in time for the 2014 season, including capping the costs of suspension and brake components, limitations on gearbox internals and limits on the total number of engines used over a season to eight per rider.
There is also a whole new SBK Evo class for 2014, which will run alongside the full SBK machines. Evo machines will feature full SBK chassis specifications, but will run Superstock engines and electronics packages. There is an engine limit of six per rider per season in the SBK Evo category.
After the completion of the opening weekend there will be a long wait for the second round of the series to get underway, on Sunday 13th April, at Motorland Aragon in Spain.
As the 2014 FIM Supersport World Championship gets underway shortly Michael van der Mark (Pata Honda World Supersport Team) and Lorenzo Zanetti (Pata Honda World Supersport Team) once more team up to challenge for the second year in succession. The opening round takes place alongside the FIM Superbike World Championship class at Phillip Island in Australia, on Sunday 23rd February.
The Pata Honda team’s intense off-season preparations were completed with a two-day test at Phillip Island on 17 and 18 February and van der Mark and Zanetti are now fully ready to race, leading the hopes of several top Honda entries in the 2014 championship fight.
Van der Mark was fastest of the Honda riders at the official Australian tests, in third place overall. New Honda rider, and former Moto2 pilot Ratthapark Wilairot (Core PTR Honda) was impressive in fifth place in the pre-season testing order as he now goes about carving a career path in the WSS class. Raffaele De Rosa (Core PTR Honda) has remained with Honda for 2014, but has changed teams.
Jack Kennedy (CIA Insurance Honda) has also moved teams in 2014, but has again remained with Honda. The Irish rider was fast in the early tests at Phillip Island but fell and broke his right heel later on day one. He has already undergone surgery to try and get himself back into contention for the race weekend. Young Spanish rider Nacho Calero (CIA Insurance Honda) is back in the overall PTR Honda team set-up again as he starts his second season of WSS competition.
The Lorini Honda team has had a radical change in readiness for the 2014 season, with Riccardo Russo (Team Lorini Honda) and former Superstock 1000 rider Marco Bussolotti (Team Lorini Honda) joining the Italian squad. Fraser Rogers (Com Plus SMS Racing) makes his WSS full season debut in 2014, after taking a one of ride with his new team in 2013.
Bryan Staring (Rivamoto Honda) was a late call up to the Rivamoto squad that ran Jack Kennedy last year, with Staring – a recent MotoGP rider – heading for his first season in the WSS class. He is an old hand at Superstock 1000 FIM Cup racing, so the Superbike paddock is a familiar one to him. He also won the Australian Supersport championship in the past. He was 13th in the official pre-race test rankings at his home circuit.
“The tests went well at Phillip Island until I had a big highside on the first lap of the afternoon session today. In not so grippy track conditions, and with a new tyre fitted, the traction control did not work as we hoped it would, so I had a big one at turn 11. I am happy I walked away from it although my backside is a bit sore after landing on it so hard. All in all we made good progress this morning working on race runs and race set-up. This afternoon was going to be a long distance run but we missed the session. I honestly think we can challenge for the top spots here even through we are still in a catch-up mode. We are trying to bring our electronics package to where it needs to be but up to this point we have been making small but correct steps. Now we are working on chassis set-up, which we have not been able to do for a while now, and every session we are making the right steps and the right progress. We have two more days of track time before raceday itself, and we are not a million miles away.”
Jonathan Rea (Pata Honda World Superbike Team) – “We are in much better shape than we were in last year but we still have work to do to be competitive. We have been going well up until turn ten, and in the final two corners. That’s where I seem to lose all the progress we have made during the lap. At the slow turn ten I really struggle with engine braking and throttle connection, then in the final corner – where I think we are losing the bulk of the time – it is mostly losing feeling with the front. I do not feel confident through the last corner and then when I get on the gas down the straight I feel I am getting held back a bit by the electronics. We will see on Friday if we have more ideas for the race. The team know what I am speaking about and we can see it on the data. I did a race run today so I know how the tyre behaves towards the end.”
Michael van der Mark (Pata Honda World Supersport Team) – “I am ready for the race because our tests went OK. I got a tyre that worked well over race distance and compared to last year, and the work we have done in the winter tests, I am really happy with the bike. It is really easy to ride. I am sure we can find some improvements for race weekend and if we can get the full race distance on the tyre we should have a good pace for the race. It is easier to approach this first race of the season in my second year in the championship, and in my second year with my team. I needed only three or four laps to remember all the parts of the track. I am happy to continue on the same bike and in the same team. Last year we scored three podiums and in the winter tests we made a big step. It will be difficult with Kenan Sofuoglu, but if we can close the gap to Kenan I think we can fight for the win.”
Lorenzo Zanetti (Pata Honda World Supersport Team) – “The final morning of the tests was not so bad and I arrived with a good lap time, same as my best lap time from last year. I tried a new race simulation on a new tyre from Pirelli but as soon as I started there was a red flag and then I had a little problem and then a crash. I hope to have no problems in race weekend. The most important thing will be the durability of the tyres.”
Ratthapark Wilairot (Core PTR Honda) – “We have been working on a good way since we got the bike here and it has been quite difficult for me because I stopped half way through the previous Moto2 season. So the first day was difficult here to adapt to the Supersport bike and then also the track, because I had forgotten some parts of it. We had good information from these tests and we also did a long run. We are working well and I hope we can go to the top. My first target on the race weekend is to finish the race and understand how WSS is. I would like to stay with the front group and learn.”
Riccardo Russo (Team Lorini Honda) – “It is a good feeling in my new team and the Honda is a very good bike which feels very fast. I really think it will be possible to be in the top five on the weekend if it all goes well. On my first race weekend on the Honda I expect to be inside the top ten at least but I hope to be closer to the first ones. The feeling is good already even though I have never ridden at Phillip Island until now. There are some very fast corners but I love the track.”
Bryan Staring (Rivamoto Honda)- “My feeling with the bike is great so I am a little bit disappointed that we dropped down the list a bit at the end. Our consistency is quite good and we still need to find a little bit more. But we are consistently close and I think we are a lot stronger than our current situation of 13th shows. I am happy how the team works and how we have improved so if we can keep chipping away like this I am confident we can have a good race on Sunday.”
Marco Bussolotti (Team Lorini Honda) – “This is my first time on a WSS bike after riding a Superstock 1000 for so long. It is also my first time here in Australia, so the test was not the best but I hope we can do better during the race. I just have to improve the feeling with the 600cc bike.”