With bikes actually riding in earnest once again, the first set of press releases has been issued from the World Superbike season opener at Phillip Island. Here's what the teams had to say at the end of day 1:
Phillip Island – Free Practice & Qualifying Practice 1.
Team BMW Motorrad Motorsport started the 2011 season solidly: While Leon Haslam (GBR) and Troy Corser (AUS) suffered from severe grip issues in today's free practice session, both BMW Motorrad Motorsport riders were able to secure provisional starting positions on the second and third rows during the first qualifying session. Both riders' crews worked on the engine mapping as well as the chassis set-up between the sessions. Leon finished today's qualifying in sixth, while Troy finished eleventh.
Leon Haslam: Fastest lap Free Practice: 1:32.360 min (P4)/Fastest lap Qualifying Practice 1: 1:32.082 min (P6)
"We are happy with how today went, and definitely made a step forward from the test. We found half a second in warmer conditions, which is not too bad. Carlos Checa is still the man to beat, but I am pretty close to the other guys, and that's the main thing. We now have to fine-tune some smaller remaining issues, but we are pretty much on the race pace now. As usual, we are pushing as hard as we can for tomorrow and Sunday."
Troy Corser: Fastest lap Free Practice: 1:34.913 min (P22)/Fastest lap Qualifying Practice: 1:32.699 min (P11)
"We have definitely made improvements with the bike. My bike's set-up is now pretty much the same as Leon's, and my lap times dropped down to the same as his in the morning. Obviously we have moved on, but still we are not where we want to be. Again, this afternoon, we tried some things but did not improve any further. After this morning's session, we should be happy with the qualifying result. We will now look into the data and see where we can make further improvements." Rainer Bäumel (Head of Race Operations): "On Tuesday we saw we were heading in the right direction on Leon's side, while it took us longer to make Troy's bike quicker. He still had big problems during this morning's session. We were better in the afternoon, but still both riders lack mechanical grip. Tomorrow's weather forecast is not too good, so we are happy with our provisional starting positions."
Rea fights pain for top ten in Australia
Castrol Honda's Jonathan Rea set the ninth fastest time in this afternoon's opening qualifying session at Phillip Island in Australia in preparation for the first round of the 2011 World Superbike championship on Sunday.
The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland, who suffered a 210kph testing crash only three days ago, was second fastest in this morning's free practice session and comfortably quick in race trim.
However, he was unable to improve his lap time with Pirelli's new ‘big' rear tyre and, in consideration of his injuries and tyre allocation for tomorrow, opted to sit out some of this afternoon's session.
His Castrol Honda team-mate Ruben Xaus was 19th fastest this afternoon after spending much of the session on used race rubber in preparation for Sunday's two 22-lap races around the 4.5km Phillip Island circuit.
The Spaniard suffered similar problems to Rea when using the bigger rear, however, and was unable to improve his time.
Jonathan Rea – P9, 1m32.424s
I think the most important thing is that the Clinica Mobile guys have patched me up really well. My back and neck are really sore today, but the heavy strapping on my left wrist seems to be fine on the bike. This morning we worked through race distance on a potential race tyre and we continued that this afternoon. But when we threw in the new bigger shape tyre, which was working really well on Tuesday, the track temperatures were too hot so it wasn't any better. So, rather than burn another tyre from our allocation and burn valuable energy at this point of the weekend, we sat out the session. To be top ten after the first day and to have another 36 hrs to get stronger for Sunday makes me really optimistic. The bike's working great and is really fun to ride and I have no confidence issues after the crash on Tuesday. When I was lying in hospital on Wednesday and the doctors were talking about keeping me in another night, I never even thought I'd be on a bike this weekend. I'd like to say a really big thanks to everyone who's got me to this position, and for me to be putting in good lap times on old tyres is really down to them.
Ruben Xaus – P19, 1m33.411s
I planned not to use so many tyres this afternoon but my last run was quite difficult. I spent most of today working on race distances with old tyres and then when we moved to the bigger tyre we expected to go better. I couldn't even get close to the times I was doing on the smaller tyre. Instead the rear started to jump quite badly and it was very difficult to hold the line without that grip. I just couldn't use it and I think with the smaller tyre I was already having some problems absorbing the bumps, so this just made it worse. We're still making changes to the bike and it's really beginning to feel like it's mine – I can have some fun with it now – and the team is working really. I need to improve some things myself and try again tomorrow.
Ronald ten Kate – team manager
After Jonathan's high speed crash and the injuries he sustained, we're honestly just happy that he is even riding the bike again here this weekend. His performance just shows what a tough, strong and brave rider he is. Today we weren't pushing for too many laps and we were trying to keep some tyres in reserve. After another night's sleep and some more recovery time we can hopefully we can make another step forward tomorrow. On Ruben's side of the garage we are clearly not where we would like to be. There are a few things we still need to figure out with him because on used tyres there seems to be quite good speed but things got worse when we put in a new tyre. We need to look into this and make a big step forward tomorrow.
CARLOS CHECA (ALTHEA RACING) POWERS TO PROVISIONAL POLE AT PHILLIP ISLAND;
Phillip Island (Australia), Friday 25th February 2011: the first round of the 2011 World Superbike Championship officially got underway today at the Australian track of Phillip Island and Althea Racing rider Carlos Checa immediately sent out warning signals to his rivals when he powered his Ducati 1198 to the first provisional pole of the season, seemingly without breaking a sweat.
In the first free practice session, in temperate conditions (20C air temperature, 42C track), Carlos made his presence felt right from the start, registering a 1m31.6 just a few minutes into the session. Unfortunately that lap was followed up with a small crash but the Spaniard was unhurt and continued to dominate proceedings, closing the session at the top of the timesheets, six tenths of a second ahead of Rea (Honda) in second place. Even though times were not as fast as those he recorded during testing earlier this week, Checa was nevertheless the only rider to duck under the 1m32 barrier this morning.
Later in the day, in first qualifying, Carlos backed up his earlier performance by propelling himself into first position after just twenty minutes. He remained ahead of the pack until the end of the session, also managing to drop his time by a few tenths to conclude with a best lap of 1m31.5. His closest rival this afternoon was Guintoli, he too on board a Ducati, who finished three tenths of a second behind Althea's flagbearer. Although satisfied with today's results, the Althea Racing team hopes to be able to make further improvements tomorrow ahead of the all important Superpole.
"We worked really well today, concentrating mainly on the tyres. We have a clearer idea of which race tyres to use and I'd say that we're back in a position where we're experiencing the same sensations as last year. Unfortunately I fell this morning at the second corner. I was having difficulty shifting down, meaning that I hit neutral and lost the front. Anyway the problem was quickly solved by my always efficient technicians. Today we worked more on tyres while tomorrow we have other things to try, but I admit that I'm feeling very confident for now."
Third for Lowes in opening qualifying
PARKALGAR HONDA'S Sam Lowes and Miguel Praia continued to improve their set-up and lap times from the recent test to claim third and 12th in the opening qualifying session of the season at Phillip Island in Australia.
There is another practice and qualifying session tomorrow before the race takes place at 1330 local time on Sunday, 27th February.
Sam: "It's great that I am third after first qualifying – and that I have gone faster than in testing here earlier in the week. As I am learning the track I am getting to grips with it and now there are only two corners that I need to find some more time from compared to Eugene's data from last year. We know what we need to do and will be onit tomorrow – things are looking good."
Miguel: "I was not as fast in the afternoon as the morning as the grip level went down. In the morning I was happy and in the afternoon I tried to make long runs concentrating on race distance. I couldn't make the same lap time in qualifying but I am quite pleased doing 35s – that is just half a second away from my fastest lap here. There is a lot of work to do still, I want more feedback from my Parkalgar Honda and we will try different set-ups with more weight on the rear for grip. I want to start on the second row."
Simon Buckmaster, Parkalgar Honda Team Manager: "It's been a really good day for Sam, he is losing the majority of his time in the last two corners and will work on that. First time here he's got podium potential.
"Miguel is on the third row and to needs to try and improve that. Certainly it is an improved performance over testing. He's more comfortable on the bike and moving in the right direction and we are looking to move up the grid tomorrow."
Foret in control on the Island
Hannspree Ten Kate Honda's Fabien Foret continued his domination of Phillip Island in Australia today by setting the fastest time in this afternoon's first qualifying session for Sunday's World Supersport championship opener.
Foret was also fastest after the two-day official test earlier this week and opened the 2011 season this morning by going fastest in free practice.
However, with new World Supersport regulations restricting each rider to one bike, the French rider almost didn't put in a qualifying time at all after crashing on his first lap of the session at the tight MG corner. He managed to bring his Honda CBR600RR back to the pits where his crew spent 25 minutes re-building the machine.
Foret's young Hannspree Ten Kate Honda team-mate, Florian Marino, also impressed in this afternoon's qualifying, setting the eighth fastest time for a provisional second row start.
The 17-year-old from Cannes in southern France is making his debut as a permanent World Supersport championship rider and this is his first visit to the demanding 4.5km Phillip Island circuit.
Fabien Foret – P1
I made a little mistake on my first lap this afternoon – I was already on a fast lap but I think I was a little bit too hot. Tomorrow I will concentrate more and not make this kind of silly mistake. The bike is working OK, but in my opinion it was working a little better in the cooler conditions this morning. So we'll try to adjust a little bit tomorrow for warmer conditions and then we'll be close to being ready for the race. I think we can say that, with the new rules, my guys passed the test today, so thanks to them for that!
Florian Marino – P8
I'm still a little disappointed because I think I could have gone faster, but on my fast lap I got held up by s ome slower riders. I had the problem for two or three laps and then my tyres had passed their best. I have improved the consistent lap time though, so I am happy about that. I suppose that the second row is not too bad and my ideal time is three tenths faster. We still have some work to do in the final sector where there is still a bit of movement at the rear and it'll be even better when we find a solution.
Ronald ten Kate – team manager
It was a really positive start to the season for both riders today. After the testing we've done here we knew that Fabien's pace was very fast, but he still has to go out there and do it. He had a small off at the beginning of the session when he was a bit over-enthusiastic about things, but he got that out of the way and the boys worked really hard to get the bike ready again for him. The one-bike rule makes things a bit more complicated in cases of a crash but they di d a really good job. Florian's result is maybe even more outstanding, though. For a 17-year-old on his first time at Phillip Island, it's very good to finish where he did. He was held up on his fastest lap, too, so there's even more to come from him. There's still some work to do tomorrow, but it's a positive start so happy faces so far.
Ellison on the pace after surgery
BOGDANKA PTR Honda's James Ellison shrugged off the effects of Wednesday's keyhole surgery on his left knee to claim ninth in the first qualifying session for the opening round of the World Supersport Championship at Phillip Island in Australia.
Pawel Szkopek was 13th on his Bogdanka PTR Honda just 1.8 seconds from provisional pole man Fabien Foret with one more practice and qualifying tomorrow ahead of the Sunday's race.
James Ellison: "I'm still in some pain following my operation but it was definitely a good idea to do it as I'm feeling a lot better than during the test. We can improve the balance of the bike a little bit which is the plan for tomorrow but both the bike and myself have the potential to be on the front row. You need a good start here so we'll do our best."
Pawel Szkopek: "I'm very happy about today. The team helped me to find a setup that works well for me and we're going in the right direction. It was difficult to improve the morning times during the qualifying because the track was hotter and had less grip so I'm very happy about going underneath 1:36. My starting position is very good right now and I'm looking forward to improving more."
Simon Buckmaster: "We're finding a better bike setting for Pawel which is within the operating window of the machine and he's starting to get to grips with that. It's a learning experience for him and for us to understand his needs but it's coming together. He did a 1:35.9 and was consistent so we're getting there. James has recovered well from surgery. He had a few minor issues today but we got it sorted and he's looking in a good shape for tomorrow."
Season is starting for Harms Benjan racing team
Race 1, Phillip Island – Australia
After the 2de day of testing earlier this week for the Harms BenJan racing team, Robbins race bike was prepared for the real deal. Today the season really kicked of with the first timed practises of the year. With the information from the 2de day test, the setup for the bike should be easier for the free practice, but it wasn"t that so at all.
The circuit conditions seemed to be different then before so changes had to be made on the bike to give Robbin a better feeling.
Finishing in 11th with a 1m35.818 there is still some improvement to be done.
The afternoon, with temperatures rising up to 25 degrees, the qualifying session was very close up front. If you blinked with your eyes, you could drop a few places. Robbin was feeling good and comfortable with the bike and was eager to set a good lap time, resulting in a good place on the grid for Sunday"s race. Although struggling to find good grip in the rear, Robbin did manage to pull out a 1m35.563 which placed him 10th overall.
Reaction rider Robbin Harms, 10th 1m35.563
I am not 100% satisfied with today"s work and I am sure tomorrow can be much better. This morning was difficult to find a good setup but all improved in qualifying. There is still room to set a faster lap time, which I am sure I am capable of doing so.
Reaction Team manager Jan Breedveld:
Today was not a bad day at the office although I must say it was not as good as we expected it to be, since we had a pretty good test. Robbin tried very hard which saw him end up in 10th place. Tomorrow we have another try, only if the weather conditions remain the same which can change quite quickly here on the island.
Strong Start for Laverty in First Phillip Island Qualifying
New Yamaha World Superbike Team rider Eugene Laverty made an impressive debut today for his first ever World Superbike Championship race weekend. Having spent the morning's free practice session making further adjustments to his set up, the 24yr old rider from Northern Ireland sent a clear message in the afternoon's qualifying, the first of two over the weekend, using his 2011 R1 to its full potential to take third in the final timesheets just 0.392 seconds from front man Carlos Checa.
Laverty's new teammate, fellow World superbike rookie Marco Melandri had a less successful day today. The 28yr old Italian rider struggled to find a good feeling with the tyres used today, resulting in him losing the front end on turn 6 and falling. Melandri wasn't hurt in the incident and returned to complete qualifying on his number two bike but was unable to better eleventh in the timesheets, just over a second off the lead.
Eugene Laverty, Yamaha World Superbike Team
"I'm very satisfied with my position today, I didn't expect to be that high up in the standings although my aim was to do a 1.31 to get me through to Superpole tomorrow, so I was expecting the lap time but not the position. We learnt a bit more today for our race set up but we still need to work on a bit of consistency. Thankfully we can now focus tomorrow morning on race set up."
Marco Melandri, Yamaha World Superbike Team
"It was a very bad day for me today everything seemed to be going wrong. Definitely a no meaning day, I will start fresh tomorrow! I lost the front when I was trying a harder front tyre, I had no feeling in it and suddenly it was just gone. Tomorrow we will go for a different tyre and a set up we know so we should be much better, I am confident we will be up there."
Yamaha World Superbike Team Manager - Andrea Dosoli
"It wasn't the best day today for Marco, he crashed after a few laps of qualifying, losing the front at turn six testing a harder front Pirelli tyre. He had to switch to a different bike and was less confident in pushing hard for the rest of the session. I have no doubt that tomorrow he will be much better. Eugene was quite fast and with small change to set up he was able to make a better lap time than the test here last week. He managed to test some different tyres today as the track temperatures were different to the test, so he has a better idea of what he should use for tomorrow and the race. Once again he's showed us his potential."
Yamaha ParkinGO Team Take Provisional Front Row Start with Davies
Yamaha ParkinGO Team rider Chas Davies took a big step forward today following last week's test here at Phillip Island. A new set up on the 2009 World Supersport Championship winning R6 worked well for the young British rider, propelling him up the time sheets to finish the first qualifying session in fourth with a time of 1'35.065 and earning a provisional front row start for Sunday's first race of the season.
Davies teammate Luca Scassa also impressed and wrapped up first qualifying in sixth, the Italian rider less than two tenths behind Davies with a time of 1'35.236. Scassa will also trial the new set up for tomorrow's second qualifying session, looking to kick off the first race with both riders on the front row. Both riders, second and fourth in the top speed ranking, were clearly benefiting from a further two sessions on their new race machinery, having had limited testing time in advance of this season's first race on Sunday due to a late agreement between Yamaha and ParkinGO to run the bikes.