Phillip Island to set 2015 WSBK season in motion
The 2015 eni FIM Superbike World Championship is less than a week away from its first showing and the riders are already in Australia to prepare for the opening round, which is preceded by a two-day official test starting today, Monday, February 16.
This year’s edition of the Australian round, sponsored by leading insurance company Swann, will be the 25th in the history of the series, an all-time record in terms of most World Superbike events staged by a single circuit. The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit made its debut on the World Superbike calendar back in 1990 and, after a brief absence in 1993, has been hosting a round of the championship ever since. From 2010 onwards the Victorian venue has hosted the opening event of the season.
As well as being the fastest on the calendar – with a current fastest average speed for the series of 177.720 km/h – and a favourite for riders and fans alike, Phillip Island is generally regarded as one of most spectacular race tracks in the world. Located on the southerly most tip of Australia amid wonderful coastal scenery, the 4.445 km (2.762 mi) track features seven left-hand corners and five right-handers and many elevation changes up to almost 60 m.
The New Year comes with several changes on different levels. Seldom has the series has witnessed as many changes in the rider line-up as new partnerships, welcome returns and new arrivals have shaped the 2015 grid in a new way compared to the one seen last year.
With Reigning World Champion Sylvain Guintoli joining the Pata Honda squad with 2014 World Supersport title winner Michael van der Mark, former team members Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam have gone for a change and entered the Kawasaki Racing Team and the Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils outfits, respectively. Both Britons will be in good company, as Rea will have 2013 WorldSBK Champion Tom Sykes as team-mate while Haslam will share his new garage with former Moto2 Grand Prix winner Jordi Torres from Spain.
Catalan Torres makes up just a quarter of the Spanish rookie contingent that will try to follow in the footsteps of Carlos Checa. The 125cc World Champion of 2011, Nicolas ‘Nico’ Terol (Althea Racing Ducati), Santiago Barragan (Team Grillini SBK) and Roman Ramos (Team Go Eleven Kawasaki) are eager to test their skills aboard superbike machines.
Former Grand Prix ace Randy de Puniet from France will be on double duty this year, tackling his maiden World Superbike season with the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team alongside 2013 British Superbike Champion Alex Lowes while retaining his job as Suzuki MotoGP test rider.
Alex Lowes: “I’m really looking forward to getting the 2015 World Superbike season started with the official tests at Phillip Island. It’s a track and event that I really enjoyed last year so I can’t wait to get out there and continue the progress we have been making with the GSX-R and the Crescent Suzuki team over the winter. I’m feeling really calm and positive after the European tests last month and hope to transfer that to the track when we get to Australia.”
Randy de Puniet: “The test at Phillip Island is still very important for me as it will be two more days on the GSX-R1000, and the first time riding the bike at the track knowing we will race there at the end of that week. My aim for the two days is to feel more confident with the front of the bike and to run race simulation to get a feel for the tyres under this distance. It is the last chance for us to work together to take further steps to be competitive but I’m confident, I like the track and the bike has proved to be consistently fast there before.”
The newly-named Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team has kept things unchanged on the line-up side, with Chaz Davies and especially Davide Giugliano showing great speed aboard their Panigale R machines during the last European test of the pre-season at Jerez back in January. The latter is now looking to step atop the podium for the first time in his World Superbike career, an eventuality that could coincide with Italy’s 100th race win since the WorldSBK was inaugurated in 1988.
Elsewhere, there are welcome returns to the championship. Argentina’s Leandro ‘Tati’ Mercado steps up with the Barni Racing Team with which he claimed last year’s FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, while Matteo Baiocco partners the aforementioned Terol at Althea Racing. In single-rider teams are the likes of David Salom (Team Pedercini), Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) and Sylvain Barrier (BMW Motorrad Italia SBK Team), while the Hero EBR (Pegram Racing) outfit moves into its second season with Team Manager-rider Larry Pegram and Niccolò Canepa.
2015 also marks significant revisions to the technical regulations, not least in the areas of electronics (with a new price cap) and engines (with less tuning permitted for pistons and conrods especially). Not only are costs hoped to fall as a result, but the new rules are set to make the championship more attractive to privateer teams and are expected to result in a generally more competitive grid from the start of the new campaign.
Melbourne’s Jed Metcher aims high with small, tight-knit operation
You can’t compete in a motorcycle world championship event without a massive amount of behind the scenes assistance, and no-one knows that more than Eltham rider Jed Metcher.
The 24-year-old is preparing to takes on the world’s best in the opening round of the 2015 FIM Superbike World Championship – a record 25th running of the event – at Phillip Island next weekend (February 20-22), with his small team based out of Brunswick – most of them volunteers – set to take on the mega-buck factory-backed operations from the likes of Kawasaki, Ducati and Honda. Metcher begins his campaign tomorrow, joining the world’s leading teams as they knuckle down for the final pre-season test in preparation for the opening Swann round.
“We’ve been putting this thing together for about 12 months now, and a number of people have worked tirelessly to make it happen, including Darren Sciberras, Ben Mead and my father (Mal Metcher),” said Metcher. “It’s been a big team effort on a limited budget, but that really gives me extra motivation to go and rattle the big international teams.
“We’ll certainly do the best with what we’ve got, but you’ve also got to look at the facts: we’ve been going for a year, while the Kawasaki Racing Team, for example, is an experienced outfit with vastly skilled personnel.
“But that’s how it goes, and it doesn’t alter the fact that I really want to make an impact at Phillip Island – in fact it makes me even more determined.”
Despite the David vs Goliath scenario, Metcher at least feels the new standardised world superbike rules – superbike chassis and superstock-type engines — are at least marginally in his favour compared to Aussies who’ve toiled as wildcards in past years.
“Engine-wise it’s going to help as the top factory bikes shouldn’t have the horsepower edge as they once did, but it’s the chassis development and electronics side of things where we are left behind – and it’s nearly impossible to bridge that gap as it takes a lot of time, money and effort.”
Metcher, the 2011 European Superstock 600 champion, will ride a Race Center-backed RC-10 machine at Phillip Island, based on the Kawasaki ZX-10R. Metcher has tested the machine at Phillip Island a few times now, and will return this Monday and Tuesday (February 16-17) for a final shakedown test before round one officially commences on Friday, February 20 ahead of two 22-lap races on the Sunday.
Metcher will be joined at the test session by the 24 other riders in the world superbike field at Phillip Island, including big guns such as world champion Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Honda), Tom Sykes, Jonathan Rea (both Kawasaki Racing Team), Randy de Puniet (Voltcom Crescent Suzuki), pre-season pacesetter David Giugliano (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) and fellow Aussie wildcard Matt Walters (Pedercini Kawasaki).
Metcher will be looking to make big inroads at the test, especially with a new gearbox he’s trying out for the first time.
“Hopefully the gearbox will give should give me good punch out of turn four,” said Metcher. “I’ll also be concentrating on doing some longer runs on day two to really get in the groove ahead of round one.”
The last time Metcher competed at Phillip Island he was the fastest man on track at the Island Classic historic meet in the marquee International Challenge event, but his chances of taking individual honours were nobbled by mechanical failure.
But world superbike will be a far more difficult assignment.
“This has been 12 months in the making and I can’t wait to get out there,” said Metcher. “We’ve come a long way since it all began in February 2014 and to be showcasing this project on a world stage is very exciting. It will be tough but also very rewarding.”
The FIM Supersport World Championship is about to get started with – as usual – many potential title contenders. Three-time World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu is eager to return to winning ways after a tough 2014, which saw the 30-year-old Turk struggle in the first half of the season only to find himself without a ride after the summer break. Thanks to the efforts by Kawasaki, Sofuoglu was able to finish the season with the San Carlo Puccetti Racing team – the same outfit he is going to tackle the 2015 edition of the series with – which in the meantime has become the manufacturer’s factory team in World Supersport.
After finishing as runner-up for the second time in two years of participation in the category, Jules Cluzel is back to business aboard the F3 675 of the MV Agusta Reparto Corse team, joined this time by Lorenzo Zanetti.
Last year’s title-winning squad Pata Honda has recruited young Briton Kyle Smith as the team’s sole rider for the year, unlike CIA Landlords Insurance Honda which fields a significant four-rider line-up consisting of the returning Gino Rea, Martin Cardenas, Kieran Clarke and Riccardo Russo.
Frenchman Lucas Mahias will be alongside confirmed rider Patrick Jacobsen within the Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpres Team, while last year’s FIM Europe Superstock 600 champion Marco Faccani steps up to the new World Supersport challenge as Sofuoglu’s team-mate in the San Carlo Puccetti Racing Team.
After taking part in selected rounds last year, Alex Baldolini is going to contest the whole 2015 season with his own ATK#25 MV Agusta team. Fellow Italians Roberto Rolfo and Christian Gamarino will race with Team Lorini and Team Go Eleven, respectively.