Phillip Island, Australia
Four rounds into the World Superbike season and the contours of the 2015 championship are starting to become clear. Some of the things we expected to happen have unfolded much as predicted, but there have also been a fair few surprises. Time to take a quick look at the state of World Superbikes so far.
New technical regulations have been put in place aimed at reducing cost and leveling the playing field somewhat. Their effect so far? Despite the protestations of the Kawasaki and Aprilia riders, all of whom have been complaining of a loss of horsepower, neither top speed nor overall lap times appear to have been affected much. Taking Tom Sykes as perhaps the best example, as he was on the Kawasaki ZX-10R both this year and last, his lap times were half a second slower at Phillip Island, half a second quicker at Assen, the only two tracks at which it is possible to compare. Chaz Davies on the Ducati Panigale was a second quicker at Assen, and eight tenths quicker in race one at Phillip Island, but in race two lapped just as fast in 2015 as he did in 2014. Overall, the Phillip Island track was a little slower in 2015, while conditions at Assen were definitely improved this year over last. The jury is still out on the new rules, but there are definite rumblings audible from the jury room.
Perhaps the biggest effect of the new rules is on the expectations of riders. The Kawasaki is among the most affected of the WSBK bikes by the new rules, with claims that the ZX-10R has between ten and twenty fewer horses than it had in 2014. That has had a bigger impact on Tom Sykes than on his new teammate, Jonathan Rea, Sykes struggling while Rea has come in and cleaned up. Sykes finds himself with a bike that is down on power to what he is used to, a development which is not good for a positive mindset. Rea has come off a bike which he knew to be incapable of winning a championship, and hopped onto one which has been proven capable of doing just that. It's easy to go fast when what you have is better than what you had, and you see opportunity looming.
Bridgestone have added two new tires to their 2015 allocation, in response to developments in 2014. A new extra-hard rear will be made available at a few of the more abrasive circuits on the calendar, while the asymmetric front, debuted at Phillip Island last year, will also be available at more tracks.
Two new tires means two new color codings, to distinguish them from the existing allocation of tires. The extra hard rear will carry a yellow stripe around the side, while the asymmetric front will be indentifiable by a light blue band on the sidewall. The existing color codings for the remainder of the tires remain unchanged, as shown in the tire chart and table below.
It has been a busy week for racing, with the World Superbike season opener at Phillip Island followed by the MotoGP test at Sepang, including the extra day of testing on Michelins. There has been a lot of news, but between MotoMatters.com's star WSBK reporter Jared Earle and I, we got most of it covered, with an extra bonus of photos from top Australian shooter Andrew Gosling.
But there have been one or two things we may have missed, so here's our weekly round up of racing news.
Scratching the itch: Young Gun vs Old Master
There were a lot of happy faces at the Australian round of World Superbikes. Troy Bayliss, three-time World Superbike champion and arguably, WSBK's last superstar, made a return to the series, replacing the injured Davide Giugliano on the Aruba.it Ducati Panigale. The replacement was at very short notice, Giugliano having crashed during the test which preceded the opening round and fractured a couple of vertebrae.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the thrilling opening races at Phillip Island:
Rain was showing south of the track, but luckily it didn't get close to the track and left the riders to get on with twenty two more laps of close racing.
Eighteen uninterrupted laps under light cloud cover offering excellent conditions for racing.
With a high track temperature, managing tyre life was assumed to be the way to win the race, offering a potentially pedestrian race. Luckily, the tyres performed perfectly well and we got an exciting, close race instead.
Press releases from the World Supersport and World Superbike teams after qualifying at Phillip Island:
After incidents in World Superbike qualifying, the start to qualifying was pushed back an hour.
With no Evo class for 2015, an easily predicted division between Superpoles one and two isn't as clear-cut as it was last year. The weather was warm and clear and the track was hot, but red flags affected both sessions.
In the untimed session before Superpole, Michael van der Mark was quicker than Tom Sykes by a hundredth of a second. Leon Haslam was not far behind and Alex Lowes was within two tenths of van der Mark.
Jules Cluzel was one thousandth of a second slower than his best time from yesterday but was still quickest ahead of Kyle Smith who was unable to beat Kenan Sofuoglu's best Friday lap.
Gino Rea continues to perform well in his return to the series with the third fastest lap, quicker than Lorenzo Zanetti and Kenan Sofuoglu.