Surprises are the only thing that can be safely predicted about motorbike racing, and Phillip Island is unique enough to deliver them in spades. The long gap, dseven weeks before the second race, gives Phillip Island the air of pre-season testing … with points.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first races of the 2014 season at Phillip Island:
The last race of the day was dry at 22°C.
The first race of the season was dry, at 21°C
Now we have seen the new format for qualifying and the changes are not as drastic as they may have seemed on paper. Familiarity with the way the MotoGP system worked helped, as did the fact that the new format isn’t that different from the old one.
The continuing worldwide decline in sports bike sales has forced the Superbike Commission to reduce the minimum number of motorcycles to be produced for homologation, to be allowed to take part in the World Superbike series. As of now, manufacturers wishing to race a particular motorcycle must have sold 250 bikes by the end of their first year of racing in WSBK, and 1000 bikes by the end of the second year, half the requirements previously on the books. But manufacturers will still have to have produced 125 bikes before they can even embark on the homologation procedure.
The sales numbers have been reduced in response to the continuing decline in sales of large and middleweight sports bikes around the world, under pressure from increasing speed restrictions and monitoring on public roads. Even Honda is reportedly having problems selling the required numbers of the CBR1000RR SP, despite the popularity of the bike. The declining sports bike market is rumored to have persuaded Honda to shelve its V4 sports bike, which has already been postponed once. Smaller manufacturers have faced similar problems, with Aprilia struggling to sell the RSV4, despite the bike having won two world championships and consistently been a championship contender.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying for the season opener at Phillip Island:
In the only true Free Practice session, one that does not count towards Superpole entry, Davide Giugliano went quicker than all but Alex Lowes in the timed sessions. Tom Sykes reassuringly sat in second place ahead of Sylvain Guintoli.
Alex Lowes demionstrated that his Friday performance was not a one-off by putting his Suzuki in provisional pole ahead of his teammate. Eugene Laverty on the other GSX-R1000 was within xxx, with the Ducatis of Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies sitting in third and fourth places, following in Carlos Checa's qualifying performance from last year. Tom Sykes, world champion and qualifying maven, assured that he'd be in the top qualifying group while Niccolo Canepa makes history by putting his EVO Ducati Panigale into Superpole 2 amongst the full-SBK spec bikes.
Marco Melandri crshed easly on, ensuring that he was unable to improve on his best time from yesterday, but his Friday time was enough to keep him in the top qualifying group.
Phillip Island is unique. The opening race is held in the southern hemisphere, seven weeks before the circus gets to Europe. The track has its own climate and last year’s resurfacing still makes the track abrasive. Testing here took place last week, which gave teams a bit of additional setup, but it also took its toll in injuries, something that continued into the qualifying runs. The morning’s session in both Superbike and Supersport were lost to rain, but the afternoon sessions ran without a problem.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first day of practice at Phillip Island:
On his first day on the job, Alex Lowes tops his first timing sheet. The British Superbike champion, and twin brother of Sam, the World Supersport champion, recorded seven 1'31 laps on his Suzuki GSX-R1000. Marco Melandri, on the newly liveried silver Aprilia, adapted quickly to his new machine ahead of Davide Giugliano and Tom Sykes.
As the weather in Australia dampens both the track and the teams' enthusiasm, very few riders were able to get a lap that was worth anything in. At the end of the session, as conditions allowed, a handful of riders set out and recorded times that just show that their data loggers work, and very little else.
As the 2013 World Superbike season ended, the question was how the series, now owned by Dorna, could once more fill the grids. With some races rewarding every finisher with points, while the cheaper Supersport and Superstock championships raced with full grids, it was clear that more seats were needed.
One part of the solution was the new EVO class. Essentially Superbikes with Superstock engines, EVO bikes are much cheaper and, from 2015, will be the standard specification of all bikes, and over a third of the full-time entries in 2014 are EVO bikes, with familiar riders taking some of the seats. Another part of the solution was the addition of several new and returning manufacturers to the series. Alongside Ducati, Aprilia, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki, we now have MV Agusta, Buell and, hopefully, Bimota bringing the number of marques to nine.
Previews of this weekend's World Superbike season opener from the series organizer and some of the teams: