WorldSBK: Action back underway
A lot can change over the course of four months. From Phillip Island until now the world has changed but has the WorldSBK order changed? At the opening round of the year in Australia we saw an incredibly competitive weekend of racing and after two days testing-in Misano and the Lausitzring-there’s little reason to expect that to be any different when racing gets underway again.
That being said we can expect some things to be very different when racing gets underway at Jerez in August. Anti-body tests, Social distancing and face masks were the norm in Misano and while we’ll see an impact in garages the action on track should be unchanged.
Ducati set the pace at a resurfaced Misano. The track hugely improved grip compared to the older surface and lap times were immediately underneath the existing lap record with Scott Redding eventually leading the way. The Ducati rider had a raft of chassis and engine upgrades to test and even though the Panigale V4R is the fastest bike in the paddock there are still questions about whether it’s the most complete package. That’s what the Bologna based squad are trying to prove.
“It was a very positive test and it was important to regain the feeling with the bike,” said Redding. “We have worked a lot especially with used tyres and we have tried new solutions that have given positive feedback. I’ve been working out a lot these months and I’ve lost 5kg. I wanted to see how that felt on the bike. I set a good lap time but this wasn’t important because I felt good on the bike and I felt fast on the new tyre and the used tyre.”
While Redding was out to regain his feeling with the bike his teammate, Chaz Davies, was looking to find his feeling. The Welshman was stronger in the second half of 2019 but the lockdown came at the worst time for him. Phillip Island hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Davies in the past but with his contract due for renewal the importance of showing he’s back on form was critical. When racing resumes he’ll have a short timespan to prove he can match Redding.
“It was nice to get back out there,” commented Davies. “It has been a long four months and there was a great desire to reconnect with the bike and the track. We worked a lot to try many solutions and get some important feedback. We have improved in some areas and we have to improve in other aspects but the direction is the right one.”
If Davies can improve his feeling and find what he’s looking for he’s still a rider to be feared by the field. That being said with a much more competitive field in WorldSBK and lots of riders confident of being contenders Davies will know the importance of strong results in Spain and Portugal when the season resumes.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the Misano test was seen by another Ducati rider-Michael Ruben Rinaldi. The Italian had a miserable year on the Barni Ducati but finally looks to be coming out the other end. He’s a talented rider but it’s too easy to read into the single fastest times at a two day test. The pressure is very different when racing resumes.
“It was very positive for us,” said Rinaldi. “We were able to get useful information for when we restart the championship. We found a good solution and we were also very fast. Considering that our time was set with a race tyre and I can be satisfied with the work done. In race configuration we closer to Scott than over a single lap and now we can fix some details when the tyres starts to wear. The bike improved a lot during the test and the changes gave me more confidence.”
While Ducati riders were finding some confidence it was interesting to see how Jonathan Rea fared. The five times World Champion had a fast crash on the opening morning of the test.
“I It was a valuable test to get up to speed,” said Rea. “On the first day it felt alien to me, the asphalt was new and the grip levels were high, and I had to adapt my riding style a little bit. We changed the bike setup to take away a little bit of grip. I felt better after the tyre grip dropped a bit after six or seven laps and I felt more comfortable on the bike. With the race tyre I was able to be very fast and I could push.
“We did not get excited or carried away when we were struggling ; we just worked on changing the bike set-up. We didn’t have many items to try but we were able to achieve a little bit more natural turning from the bike. That is a huge thing to take away from here and I hope we can apply it to other tracks where we have been struggling in the past.”
That could prove crucial for Rea when racing resumes at Jerez. The Spanish track has been a tricky one for Kawasaki in the hotter temperatures and having a bike able to deal with grip issues in the heat will be crucial. With the Ducati likely to be strong in the warmer temperatures being able to find any improvements will be crucial for Kawasaki.
On the other side of the green garage Alex Lowes has his “most productive test with the team.” The Englishman might have left Australia leading the championship but the winter was stop-start due to bad weather during tests. Time on the bike was the key for Lowes in Italy and he left feeling content having worked to his own programme rather than focusing on the timesheets.
“It was really good because we had clear targets that we wanted to achieve at the start of the day,” commented Lowes. “We did a race simulation in the middle of the day and we had good pace for 20 laps. This will be useful for Jerez and Portimao when the weather should be hot. We found a direction with the front end setup. It was a successful test and we have a lot of information to take into the next test at Montmelo which will be another new track for me on the Kawasaki. It’s all about gelling with the bike in all different conditions.”
While many riders had reason to feel happy at the end of the test it wasn’t the case for everyone. After a four month lay-off the expectation was that Leon Camier would be back to full fitness. That wasn’t the case with the Barni Ducati rider still suffering the ill-effects of his shoulder injury. The long standing nature of the injury will clearly be a worry for Camier who is expected to have his shoulder assessed again by his surgeon. Misano was a major setback for Camier and his team who had trained on a supermoto bike with no complications.
“The team firmly believes in the path we have taken with Leon,” said team manager Marco Barnabo. “During this break, we always worked with the belief that he would return healthy. The doctors had assured us that Leon would be ready when the championship resumed. Leon had no pain during training, but on the motorcycle in Misano he realized that he couldn’t ride as he wanted. That is why we decided to consult the doctors immediately and get a complete picture of the situation.”
In Germany the Shaun Muir Racing squad were in action with Tom Sykes and Eugene Laverty. The duo were focusing on aerodynamic, electronics and engine improvements.