2013 Phillip Island World Superbike Qualifying Report: Tyres meet Asphalt
It feels like a blessing to be able to start a report without having to discuss the weather and how it adversely affected the sessions. Here’s hoping that the rest of the year follows suit as 2012 may have provided us with entertaining weather, it did get a bit much at times, to the point of being dangerous.
The first weekend’s qualifying is over, with mixed results. Pirelli will be leaving the island under a dark cloud as Supersport tyres were reported to be suffering to such a degree on the new asphalt that the race on Sunday has had six laps lopped off it for safety. Five red flags and a premature ending to the first Supersport session set the tone yet as the weekend progressed, the incidents became fewer as survival instincts adjusted to the new dangers. It remains to be seen if the Superbike race will be impacted by dodgy rubber, but a few riders were capable of stringing together long runs on tyres that didn’t degrade too much.
World Supersport was the first series to put rubber down and it was clear very quickly who the probable front runners are. Title man Kenan Sofuoglu on the same bike as last year is on paper the obvious favourite, and this weekend does nothing to assuage us of this, but Sam Lowes having switched to the Yamaha is a surprising match that has dominated all weekend in a way that would have stunned the competition into thinking they were racing for third place on the grid. Newcomer Michael Van Der Mark on the Honda has shown impressive pace on his first weekend, and he’s up with Fabien Foret on the Kawasaki, an exciting place to be.
The Ducati Panigale will, unsurprisingly, deservedly dominate the weekend’s reports, with Carlos Checa getting the stunning-looking space-age weapon onto the top step on its first outing, but under the surface, the Aprilia was the machine that impressed the most. Eugene Laverty, Sylvain Guintoli, Davide Giugliano and, unexpectedly, Michel Fabrizio, all were at one point the fastest rider. Laverty was also putting in strings of consistent 1’31 laps in a way that bodes well for his race-pace.
Injuries have taken their toll, in particular sending Ayrton Badovini to the locker room for the remainder of the weekend after a nasty crash on Friday broke his foot. Tom Sykes fractured his wrist in winter testing, and that is slowing him down a little, sending him to a place unheard of to the Kawasaki man; the second row of the grid. Carlos Checa is also a little battered, as is Marco Melandri, but both riders are unlikely to be too affected on race day.
In other news, the organisers met with the MSMA, the manufacturers’ association that left World Superbikes, to discuss their return. Honda vice president Shuhei Nakamoto was spotted in the Pata Honda garage, indicating that HRC are taking World Superbike seriously. The rumours of the Silverstone track bowing out of World Superbike as soon as this year upset people more for the loss of a British round than a loss of Silverstone itself; the track being notorious as a car track shoe-horned into a bike-racing calendar.
The races tomorrow may not indicate how the year will go, but they will answer questions as to the readiness of teams and riders. Fears of exuberance versus a new track surface will either be realised or shelved, and Pirelli above all others are hoping that the fears are just the nervous reaction to a fresh season.