Despite the best efforts of the coronavirus, the winter break is nearly over, for the WorldSBK series at least. On Wednesday, half of the WorldSBK grid take to the track at Jerez for the first major test of the 2021 season. They will be working on their preparations for the season opener, not at Phillip Island, due to the travel restrictions still in place for Australia due to the pandemic, but at the Assen circuit in The Netherlands on April 23rd.
The weather does not look like playing ball for the first full test of the season. The forecast is currently for rain on both days of the test, heaviest on Wednesday but easing off on Thursday. Wednesday may see a dry spell in the afternoon, but whether that means the track will dry enough to produce usable data is open to question.
Kawasaki have perhaps the most to learn, as they KRT team of reigning champion Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes get to grips with the brand new ZX-10RR. The bike has had several major updates, including a new engine with lighter internals, to allow it to rev higher, and a new aerodynamic package with internal winglets, along the lines of the Honda CBR1000RR-R.
Both Rea and Lowes will be hoping for dry track time so they can get a better understanding of the character and power delivery of the new engine. The team will be working on the electronics package in search of the optimum setup for the opening round in April.
The Team HRC Honda WorldSBK team will also be present, Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam continuing the development of the CBR1000RR-R. The bike got off to a difficult start in 2020, though progress became apparent as the season went on. Bautista and Haslam will be working to build on that ahead of the start of 2021.
There will be two Leons in the Team HRC garage, as Leon Camier switches from rider to team manager of the Honda WorldSBK team. Camier's last couple of years was plagued by injury, forcing him into retirement. But a switch to a role as team manager should suit the Englishman, now resident in Andorra. Camier is well-spoken, thoughtful, intelligent, and analytical, and has the right mindset for management.
There are plenty of precedents for success. Camier's counterpart at HRC's MotoGP project, Alberto Puig, is also an ex-rider. Indeed, the MotoGP paddock is full of riders-turned-manager: Lucio Cecchinello, Sito Pons, Fausto Gresini, Pit Beirer, Davide Tardozzi, Pablo Nieto, Wilco Zeelenberg, Jorge 'Aspar' Martinez, and many, many more.
There will be a bevy of Ducati riders present at Jerez as well. 2020 WorldSBK runner-up Scott Redding will be joined by Michael Ruben Rinaldi, the Italian getting promotion to the factory-backed Aruba.it team after a strong showing at the end of last year.
Chaz Davies, the man Rinaldi replaced, takes Rinaldi's seat on the Team GOELEVEN Ducati Panigale V4R, shod with Ohlins suspension again, as used by Rinaldi last year. It will be the first time Davies gets to work with the GOELEVEN team, so there is much work to do.
Tito Rabat will be making his debut in the WorldSBK paddock, riding a Ducati Panigale V4R with the Barni Racing Team. Rabat has already spent time riding a Panigale for training during his time in MotoGP, and his main objective will be to learn the quirks of the WorldSBK Pirelli tires, after spending so much time on the MotoGP Michelins.
Rabat is not the only rookie on the track at Jerez. He will be joined by two Kawasaki riders: Isaac Viñales on the Orelac Kawasaki, and Loris Cresson on the OUTDO ZX-10RR. Both Viñales and Cresson are moving up from WorldSSP.
Isaac will not be the only Viñales present: cousin Maverick, Monster Energy MotoGP Yamaha rider will also be present, though he will be riding a Yamaha R1 superbike to prepare for the start of MotoGP testing in Qatar in March. Maverick Viñales will be joined by Johann Zarco in Jerez, also on a superbike, though this time a Ducati Panigale, as the Frenchman gets ready for his first test with the Pramac Ducati team in Qatar.
There will be test riders present as well. HRC test rider Stefan Bradl will be riding the Honda RC213V MotoGP machine at the Jerez circuit, working on developments for the start of the 2021 season. Ducati test rider Michele Pirro will also be present, though Pirro will be working on Ducati's superbikes, rather than their MotoGP machines.
The Jerez circuit will have live timing of the WorldSBK test. It can be found on the live timing page at http://live.crono-jerez.com/livetiming/#/livetiming
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