WorldSBK: What did we see on Day 1 in Australia?
Last year in Phillip Island Alvaro Bautista broke the race record in Australia. The overall time was only by two seconds faster than Marco Melandri’s victory twelve months earlier but that doesn’t tell the tale. The Spaniard’s pace relative to his opposition was in a different league. He was running half a second faster than the field consistently. The race time can improve tomorrow but the margin of victory will certainly be unmatched.
In testing we saw Scott Redding out to lay down a marker to the field. After his first test alongside Rea he said that he wanted to prove to everyone how fast he is. Since then he’s focused on his testing programme but in Australia he started to let loose again and try and prove his point. He set the pace in the time attack phase of FP2 but also managed to complete a 17 lap stint that was very consistent. Redding will be hard to beat tomorrow if he can keep this consistency.
Who can fight with Redding? That list is led by the boys in blue. Michael van der Mark, Toprak Razgatlioglu and Loris Baz are all strong but it looks like van der Mark is the most likely to take the fight to the front. Toprak is struggling with tyre life and was spinning up the rear a lot in practice. Baz is losing out on top speed so defending in the race will be difficult for the Frenchman despite having great pace and consistency.
Haslam was fourth fastest for Team HRC and he looks confident and consistent. With a team centred around him he feels that he a great opportunity. Last year at Kawasaki the former British champion clearly felt that he was just a number to his team and wasn’t being involved in the decision making process as much as he would have liked. With Bautista having struggled in testing Haslam has been central to the development process and with a huge army of engineers in the garage the level of investment is clear.
For Honda the progress of Bautista will have been a pleasant surprise today. The Spaniard said that he had spent the winter trying various elements and finally put them all together today. This is when the times count and last year he did something similar. For Bautista the goal isn’t to win this weekend but rather to make progress and if he can fight inside the top ten that would be a good weekend.
Last year Jonathan Rea was given a rude awakening in Australia by Bautista. He would eventually win the title but the task he faced was massive. This weekend he started with the sixth fastest time in FP2 but he will certainly be in the fight for the race victory. Managing the tyre will be key and after practice Rea said that the best strategy in the race will be to “stay in the pack and attack at the end.” Lets see if he can do this in the races because Redding is very strong in the final sector and Rea in middle of the lap. The Kawasaki rider isn’t a standout performer in any individual area but do you want to bet against him?
It’s time for the questions to be answered. It’s time for the lights to go out. It’s time for the racing to start.