The final day of testing for the World Superbike riders at Portimao at last gave everyone a full day of riding on a dry track. Though the rain stayed away, cool temperatures and a lack of rubber on the track made conditions far from ideal, but at least the teams could get some of the work done they had planned for the test.
The day ended with a Suzuki topping the timesheets, much as it had on Sunday. This time, it was Alex Lowes putting the Voltcom Suzuki GSX-R1000 at the top of the standings, after spending a long day pounding out the laps at the track. Lowes ended the day with a small but harmless spill, which did cause the session to be red-flagged for half an hour, cutting the test short. Before his crash, Lowes was lapping close to the race lap record set by Tom Sykes during the race here back in June last year.
The World Superbike testing season has gotten off to a slow start, with the weather around Portimao apparently unwilling to cooperate. Heavy overnight rain left the circuit wet on Sunday morning, but conditions improved enough for the riders present to fit slicks in the afternoon and start to work on set up.
Fastest man of the day was Eugene Laverty on the Voltcom Suzuki, the Irishman benefiting from the work already done at Almeria last week, and continuing the work on chassis balance, suspension and electronics settings. Laverty posted a time two tenths faster than Marco Melandri, the man who took Laverty's place at Aprilia. It was a small but satisfying victory in what is likely to be a fierce rivalry, if the Suzuki continues its current pace of improvement.
The Ducati, too, showed much improvement, Davide Giugliano just three tenths behind Laverty, and Chaz Davies in fifth a tenth slower than his new teammate. After a difficult first year racing the Panigale, times so far appear much closer to the front.
Most impressive performance of the day was by Alex Lowes. The reigning BSB champion had never ridden at Portimao before, and was forced to learn the track in the wet. But within a few hours, Lowes was lapping just three tenths off the pace of Laverty, setting the fourth fastest time of the day.
Kawasaki issued the following press release after the World Superbike's team test at Almeria:
The long wait for motorcycle racing fans is over. The winter test ban for the World Superbike ends today, and a number of teams will take to the track in Spain and Portugal over the next four days, weather permitting.
The World Superbike paddock is split between Portimao in Portugal and Almeria in southern Spain for the next few days, with Aprilia, Pata Honda and Ducati heading to Portimao, while Kawasaki and Voltcom Suzuki start at Almeria. Suzuki will pack up after two days at Almeria and join Aprilia, Honda and Ducati at Portimao until the 20th of January. The Yakhnich MV Agusta team will also be testing at Portimao, as will the World Supersport teams of PTR Honda and Mahi Kawasaki.
Kawasaki and Honda will be back in southern Spain in early February, with the factory Kawasaki team being joined by the Pedercini squad and Pata Honda for two days at Jerez. Everyone then packs up and heads much further south, to Australia, for the season opener at Phillip Island on 23rd February.
Below is the preseason testing schedule for the World Superbike, World Supersport and Superstock teams for the next few weeks:
Alex Lowes is to leave BSB and race for the Voltcom Suzuki team in World Superbikes in 2014. The move had been widely expected, after Lowes had tested the GSX-R1000 at Jerez in November, with unofficial reports suggesting Lowes had already signed a contract to move to WSBK. Today, the Voltcom Suzuki team confirmed officially that Lowes would be racing for them this season in WSBK, alongside Irishman Eugene Laverty.
Lowes' switch means both Lowes twins will be racing at world championship level, with reigning World Supersort champion Sam joining the Speed Up Moto2 team. Like his brother, Alex also clinched a title last year, becoming BSB champion with the Samsung Honda team.
Below is the press release issued by the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team announcing Lowes' signing:
British Champion Lowes joins Voltcom Crescent Suzuki for 2014
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki is thrilled to announce that it has secured the signature of 2013 British Superbike Champion Alex Lowes to ride the Suzuki GSX-R1000 in this year’s eni FIM Superbike World Championship.
Althea Racing Return To The Ducati Fold: Will Field Niccolo Canepa As EVO Entry In 2014 WSBK Campaign
The Althea Racing team is to switch back to Ducati from Aprilia for the 2014 World Superbike season. After their split with Ducati over development of the Panigale at the end of 2012, the Italian team are to return to the Bologna factory fold and race the Panigale in 2014.
They will do so on a different footing to their previous relationship with Ducati, however. Next season, Althea will race the Panigale 1199R as an EVO entry in WSBK, the subclass set up to allow a more affordable entry into World Superbikes. With WSBK looking set to switch completely to EVO rules in the next few years, having a strong partner to help develop the Panigale within the restrictions set by the EVO rules - basically, a Superstock-spec engine in Superbike-spec chassis - will help Ducati prepare for the future. Given how well the Panigale has performed in Superstock form wherever it has been able to use the Ducati ECU, the bike should suit the EVO rules well.
The signing of Niccolo Canepa to race the Panigale with Althea is indicative of how close the cooperation with Ducati is likely to be. Canepa has a long history with Ducati, having functioned as a test rider for the Italian factory for a number of years, and having won the Superstock 1000 title on a Ducati in 2007, and raced Ducatis for the majority of his career.
Erik Buell Racing have officially confirmed they will be competing in the World Superbike championship in 2014. Today, EBR announced that they will be fielding Geoff May and Aaron Yates in the WSBK class, racing Erik Buell's EBR1190RX, an 1190cc 72° V twin, which has its roots in the Rotax-built machine produced when Buell was still part of Harley Davidson. Both May and Yates are long-term veterans of the AMA Superbike series, May having already raced for EBR in the AMA in 2013.
The EBR team will be backed by Hero, the Indian motorcycle manufacturer which is a minority shareholder in the EBR manufacturer. As a small manufacturer, EBR will need all the help they can get from Hero, as the homologation quantities required to be accepted for World Superbikes are sizable. EBR must have already produced 125 units before offering the EBR1190RX for homologation for the WSBK series. They must have produced a total of 500 bikes by 30th of June 2014, and 1000 in total by the end of 2014. They then have to produce another 1000 by the end of 2015, averaging three bikes a day, a real challenge for a small manufacturer. They also have to sell these units, and though the EBR1190RX has been favorably received by the press so far, there is no official word on sales figures at the moment. For more details on the homologation process and how it affects EBR, see this story on Asphalt & Rubber.
2014 World Superbike, World Supersport and FIM Superstock 1000 calendar (provisional)
Dorna, as organizers of the World Superbike series, and GAS Sports, the event organizers, issued the following press release on the World Superbike series' return to South Africa in 2014:
South Africa on WSBK provisional Calendar for 2014
Barcelona (Spain), Monday 2 December 2013 - South African motorcycle racing fans are in for a special treat next year when WSBK should return to South Africa after a break of three years.
South Africa appears on the provisional calendar for the 2014 eni FIM World Superbike Championship with a round scheduled to be held at Phakisa Freeway in the Free State, on October 19.
“We have signed a Terms of Contract short-form agreement with Dorna, the WSBK Promoters, and will enter into a long-form agreement subject to certain conditions being met - said Anthony Lauter of GAS Sports, who are organisers of this event. “We still need to secure the necessary financial guarantees required by Dorna and the Phakisa Freeway must first pass an FIM circuit inspection. We’re confident we will meet these conditions. The race weekend programme will also include World Supersport series and several top South African riders can be expected to be seen in action.”
At long last, the FIM and Dorna have released a calendar for the World Superbike and World Supersport classes for 2014. The calendar features fourteen World Superbike events, but it is still very much a provisional list, with three of the fourteen still subject to contract, and the final race still marked as to be confirmed, with neither the location nor the country known.
The season kicks off as always in Australia, the World Superbike and World Supersport classes headed to the Phillip Island circuit for the opener on 23rd of February. There follows another WSBK tradition: the interminable wait for round 2. In 2014, there are seven weeks between the first and second rounds, with the second event taking place at the Motorland Aragon circuit just outside of Alcañiz. The WSBK circus then takes off for a tour through Europe, heading to Assen, Imola and Donington Park, before heading overseas again to Sepang, and a Malaysian round. Two rounds in Europ follow, at Misano and Portimao, before the World Superbike class heads to Laguna Seca, taking the slot vacated by the MotoGP class.
Press releases from some of the World Superbike teams after the test at Jerez:
While the Moto2 and Moto3 riders are busy in Almeria, the World Superbike teams are busy at Jerez. As usual, Tom Sykes is dominating proceedings, the newly-crowned WSBK champion circulating well under pole record pace at the Spanish circuit. Sykes lapped six tenths quicker than his teammate Loris Baz, and nine tenths faster than Marco Melandri, the Italian now riding the factory Aprilia.
Alex Lowes made a very strong debut, lapping Jerez at the same pace as Melandri on his first run out on the Voltcom Suzuki machine, while Jonathan Rea was the fastest of the Honda men. The teammates of Rea and Lowes were less fortunate: Leon Haslam's test was interrupted when his Pata Honda CBR1000RR caught fire, while Eugene Laverty only managed a handful of laps as the Voltcom Suzuki team worked to set up the Suzuki GSX-R1000.
The Jerez test also saw a large contingent of EVO class entries testing, giving a chance to compare the new bikes - basically, Superstock engines in WSBK-spec chassis - against the existing WSBK machines. Salom was fastest of the lot, 2.3 seconds behind Sykes, but only four tenths off the pace of Haslam, and ahead of Eugene Laverty and Claudio Corti, both of whom did not spend much time on track.
On Wednesday, the World Superbike riders will be joined by some of the MotoGP riders racing as Open entries.
It's been a busy time for motorcycle racing in the south of Spain. With the winter test ban about to commence, and now in force for both MotoGP and World Superbikes, the teams are heading south to get some development work done while they still can. For the World Superbike and MotoGP Open class teams, their destination is Jerez, while Moto2 and Moto3 are at Almeria, in Spain's southeastern corner.
At Jerez, Suzuki has just wrapped up a test, and Yakhnich Motorsport are taking the MV Agusta F4RR out for its first spin. The Jerez test was Eugene Laverty's first opportunity to ride the GSX-R1000, after the Irishman had signed for the Crescent Suzuki team, who have swapped title sponsors from Fixi to Voltcom. The move is a step down from the full factory Aprilia team for Laverty, but it is a long-term investment for the Irishman. Speaking to German language website Speedweek.com, Laverty explained that he believed that it was easier to move development on a project forward with a smaller group of people than inside a large organization.
Loris Baz has topped the timesheets at the two-day test held at Aragon for some of the World Superbike teams. Baz had spent the test working on bike set up, on a track he has not run well on in the past. The Frenchman ended up three tenths quicker than Jonathan Rea, at his first full test after returning from a broken femur. Rea and Pata Honda teammate Leon Haslam spent most of their time working on electronics, making big steps with the HRC package they had struggled with for most of the season. Rea was two tenths quicker than Chaz Davies on the factory Ducati, the Welshman making his second test on the Italian machine, and ending up ahead of Marco Melandri on the factory Aprilia.
Major absentee at the test was reigning world champion Tom Sykes. The Yorkshireman had been scheduled to test, but his wife went into labor before the test started, and Sykes rushed back to be with his wife as she gave birth to their baby daughter.
Unofficial test times:
WSBK Rules Update: Testing Restricted, Superpole Scrapped, MotoGP Qualifying And Penalty Points Adopted
The World Superbike championship remains in a state of flux, despite the good news emerging today about the 2014 grid (Feelracing taking on the Ducati factory team, MV Agusta expanding into World Superbikes, and Michel Fabrizio joining Grillini). The Superbike Commission met at Valencia to agree further rule changes to the series for 2014, as part of the push to revitalize the series. Some of the rules are cost-cutting measures, others are aimed at making the series a more attractive TV package, while some are aimed at providing a more homogenous set of basic rules between the World Superbike and MotoGP series.