2013 Phillip Island World Superbike Weekend Round Up
The opening race weekend of the year was at a freshly-resurfaced Phillip Island, a job that's needed doing for a while that required building an asphalt batching plant on the island. This 3 million Australian dollar undertaking that required 5,000 tonnes of secret Phillip Island recipe asphalt even carried on into the weekend as support staff were seen pumping seams of epoxy resin into newly formed gaps at the edge of the track after the stresses of the first race.
Pirelli knew of the surface composition in advance, being one of the few people sworn to secrecy by the track owners, and constructed tyres accordingly. The grip levels on the track were increased, causing more abrasion than previously and in the Superbike class, the wheels were increased from 16.5" to 17", throwing two unknowns at Pirelli. Luckily, there were two tests at the island track just before the race, giving everyone the feedback necessary. Unfortunately, the proximity of the test to the race would not give anyone time to make drastic changes, if they became necessary. Going in to the race weekend, this thrust tyre talk to the forefront of any conversation, drowning out even discussions of Ducati's new race bike.
As the weekend progressed, it became obvious that the tyres weren't good enough. The Supersport race was shortened by six laps and everyone crossed their fingers. What nobody seemed to take into account, though, was that racers treat tyres as a fixed volume of currency they can spend throughout a race. If you give them a set amount of tyre, and they know how much that is, they will ration that tyre like fuel, trying to ensure that they don't run out until they have met the flag at the end. If you give a group of World Championship racers a set choice of tyres, they will to a man learn how to spend that tyre. In the post-race press conference, Eugene Laverty alluded to how he underestimated the amount of tyre he had left and erred a little too much on the side of safety. The difference over twenty two laps of tyre management came down to two seconds in Sylvain Guintoli's favour, a level of detail that puts a racer's skill into perspective. In the second race, having learned from the first, Laverty was able to adjust how he rationed out the tyre and was able to exploit that for the win.
Sylvain Guintoli left the weekend on equal points to his team mate, an excellent start to the season, but while the new tyres were ready, his helmet was not and he raced with a plain black helmet. He promised that his race replica helmet would be ready for Aragon, without catching the nuance that if he wears it, it's not a replica. Aragon is a track that favours the Aprilia and the BMW, which could give Guintoli and Laverty a psychological advantage as well as a numerical one, with only Marco Melandri available to challenge them. Michel Fabrizio also looks to be enjoying the Aprilia, dominating qualifying until Superpole, and getting the his best dry weather result since Monza 2011.
In testing, Tom Sykes fractured his left wrist which meant he was unable to challenge to his expected standard, but to leave the weekend with two fifth places was better than was expected; The Kawasaki is the bike that everyone would bet against for tyre management, and he put down his initial dropping in places in the second race to a tyre that was spinning on the rim. Fourth place in the championship after what could have been a disastrous weekend should keep Kawasaki happy. His team mate Loris Baz didn't have as good a weekend, crashing out in the second race after clashing with Chaz Davies.
The Pata Honda pairing of Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam have been promised more power, the first upgrade coming in time for the next race at Aragon. What Rea and Haslam really needed was better electronics as they were both hampered by the power delivery in the ageing Fireblades. They are facing an uphill struggle, but they know what they have to do.
The Suzuki pairing of Leon Camier and Jules Cluzel had a disappointing weekend, as Camier, one of the strongest men in winter testing, was only able to score as many points as rookie Cluzel. The bike isn't as well developed as any of the other manufacturers' offerings, but Camier has shown he should be able to do better. In the first race, he made a bad tyre choice, while the poor result in the second race wasn't his fault. Cluzel's 7th place was the good news that Suzuki should take away from the weekend.
Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini both had accidents that left the point scoring on the Ducati Panigale to an unfit Max Neukirchner. Checa's crash in race one had him airlifted to Melbourne hospital with concussion and memory loss keeping him in overnight as a precautionary measure. Ducati will be hoping for a much better weekend at Aragon.
In World Supersport, the debut podium by Michael Van Der Mark on his first race in the class was just one of the many highlights. The shortened race provided a tight flag-to-flag duel, and Van Der Mark was in the best seat to watch it. Kenan Sofuoglu and Sam Lowes look set to maintain the fight for the rest of the year.