WorldSBK: Chaz Davies: A man with a lot to prove in 2020
Under pressure? For Davies the biggest pressure comes from within
Is there a rider in WorldSBK under more pressure in 2020 than Chaz Davies? The Welshman heads into his seventh year with Ducati needing to perform. With a contract up for renewal at the end of the season and almost every world class rider on the market, there’s only one way to guarantee your future; win early and win often.
The opening three rounds of WorldSBK will be the most stressful of the year for many riders. After the Spanish round in Jerez, a clear picture will have started to develop for riders. If you’re performing well your future is clear. If not…it’s a lot murkier.
Pressure comes at every corner for a racer, but in a contract year it ramps up. The pressure to perform. The pressure to keep your seat. The pressure that keeps building. The only way to relieve it, is to win. Davies has won more races for Ducati than any rider other than Carl Fogarty and Troy Bayliss, but is it enough to have endless patience? That will be one of the biggest stories to follow this season, even if Davies will try and keep it out of his mind.
“Honestly, there are a lot of contracts up for renewal,”commented Davies during the final European tests. “You can’t really think about it too much though. It’ll be what it’ll be. All I can do is try and get the best out of myself and the package, and see how those things play out. Hopefully we’ll be in a situation where I can stay in this family for a bit longer, but it’s not at the forefront of my mind. I’m not going into the early part of the season thinking that my contract is up for renewal and that I really need to do well. I try to get the best out of myself, no matter whether there’s a contract on the line or not.”
Being able to get the most out of himself will mean continuing to build on the experiences from last year. Having ridden the twin-cylinder 1199 Panigale R for six years – and being the key rider in developing that bike – the recently turned 33 year old had tailored his style to that machine. From a difficult to manage beast, taking only a handful of podiums in the first two seasons it was raced, the 1199 developed into a regular race winner. Suddenly after almost three years without a win, Davies developed Ducati back into a title contender.
It was a remarkable turnaround and by the end of 2016, despite Jonathan Rea wrapping up another title, Davies was arguably the man to have in WorldSBK. Ending the season with a remarkable run of form, winning seven of the last eight races, a title assault beckoned. Coming up short for the following two seasons, Davies was a double vice-champion before the new bike was introduced. With four cylinders and lots of MotoGP derived technology, the Panigale V4R took plenty of adapting to for Davies. Until mid-season, when Davies’ side of the garage made a series of wholesale changes to the bike, he had been completely outclassed by his teammate, Alvaro Bautista.
“It takes time for me to understand a bike. Last year there was a technical element and we needed to find the right direction for me. Getting on a bike and flying straight away isn’t my strong point. It’s not my character as a rider. I think that it’s really important that we are building on the end of 2019 because after a tough start we were consistently on the podium by the end of the season. It was back to what I’ve known for the last five years.
“Now that the base setting is there for us, it provides a lot of confidence. We can try and improve and put my feedback into the development to make another step forward. I feel that there’s improvements to be made. Last winter I wasn’t fully fit and I didn’t know the bike. I didn’t know how to get the best out of it. We were very far outside the window to exploit my strengths as a rider. Now, I’ve won a race and had multiple podiums. I know the setup.”
Finding that base setting took far too long in 2019. With a style that evolved around the old bike, Davies preached patience throughout the opening half of the season. Once he found the right balance, which was mostly hindered on rear stability issues, he was more competitive but never quite a match for his teammate. That won’t fly in 2020 with a rookie teammate; although Scott Redding is a rookie with almost 200 Grand Prix starts. Redding will be fast from the outset on the Panigale V4R, and will join WorldSBK with the confidence that comes from winning races and the British Superbike title. It won’t be easy for Davies, but he feels that the continuity he has enjoyed with Ducati can be crucial.
“A lot changes over time and as you get experience. You learn a lot as time goes on but when you’re in the moment, it’s difficult to see the woods from the trees. I think that the continuity with Ducati has done me a world of good. I was very grateful to have had a two year contract when I first joined Ducati because bouncing from one manufacturer another is tough. As you come through the Supersport ranks you know that will happen, but getting onto a Superbike and having three different bikes for the first three years was tough. In my career, having a little bit more stability earlier would have put me in a better position but it’s all about what opportunities are available at the time. You go wherever the best opportunity lies.
“This is my seventh season with Ducati, which is a really long time. A new bike changes everything, however I’m grateful to have started the V4 project with a two-year contract. It allowed me the time to learn and adapt that I needed. Obviously, as you get older it doesn’t ever get easier but we’re still professional riders and you find a way to adapt. I developed my style for the twin and there’s certain things that I couldn’t continue doing with the V4. The extra year was good for adjusting to the new bike, to make sure I could get the most out of myself.”
Getting the most out of himself will be absolutely crucial for Davies. Doing so from the outset is key so that he’s in demand when the negotiations get underway for 2021. Phillip Island – host of the opening round – has been a mixed bag for the Welshman but six podiums shows he can get the job done Down Under. The Losail circuit in Qatar has been a much happier hunting ground with two wins and seven podiums from 13 starts. Jerez in southern Spain is the regular winter testing venue for WorldSBK, and while it’s a couple of years since he stood on the podium he is still a three time winner at the track. Davies will feel confident that he can start the season strong and that the future will take care of itself.
Using the winter to get ready for the opening round has centred once again on training and riding as much as possible with other racers.
“I spend a lot of time training with other riders. Michael [Laverty] is obviously at a different stage of his career now, but we’ve spent our winters together for a few years. Our group has included John McPhee, Bradley Ray, Bradley Smith and Leon Camier in the past. It’s more fun to have that group. We’re all competitive racers so you push harder to get the best out of yourself. That’s a big aspect of improving. You have to look at yourself quite hard and try and understand how to improve. Riding with other guys means you can try and learn from them. I think it’s never a bad thing to have that competition element too.”
In Australia we’ll start to get the first answers as to whether it’s been enough to get Davies back to the title challenger that he had been in past.