Jonathan Rea leads the field after an incident-packed second day of testing for the World Superbike class at Phillip Island. Warmer weather and intense testing saw several riders take some serious tumbles, with a couple of riders suffering significant injury.
Fabio Menghi fell and fractured a hip in the morning, while Josh Hook crashed in the afternoon and dislocated his shoulder, and fracturing his greater tubercle (top of the bone in the upper arm). The crashes and subsequent clean-up meant that much of the afternoon session was lost, as marshals tried to clear the track.
The second day of testing did throw up the intriguing prospect of a nicely mixed field. Rea topped the morning session on the Kawasaki, while Sylvain Guintoli was quickest in the afternoon, on the Pata Yamaha. The top four overall times were set on four different bikes, less than a quarter of a second separating them.
With the World Superbike season almost upon us, the WSBK grid is at Phillip Island for two days of testing, ahead of the first event of the year which starts this weekend.
Rain disrupted practice for WSBK, just as it had for MotoGP last week, though the consequences were less severe. The rain and track conditions saw a few people fall – some, such as Karel Abraham, quite hard – but everyone will be fit to start testing again tomorrow.
With the start of the season so close, most of the work being done was on set up for the weekend, and it was once again the Kawasakis who came out on top, especially during the afternoon session.
Tom Sykes ended up on top of the timesheets, much to the delight of the Kawasaki man, who has historically not fared well at the circuit.
What did we learn from the Phillip Island MotoGP test? We learned that the rule changes for 2016, new electronics and Michelin tires, have made learning anything from testing very difficult.
To borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, we learned that there are still plenty of known unknowns, and even more unknown unknowns. The most interesting thing to come out of the test is that a few of the unknown unknowns turned into known unknowns.
To put it more simply and bluntly, we had our noses rubbed in our ignorance. What we learned from Phillip Island is that the teams and manufacturers are still slap bang in the middle of adapting to the new regulations, and that things are changing fast.
Faces dropped as teams headed into the paddock at Phillip Island on Thursday morning. Another day of rain? Surely not. Had they not suffered enough?
What was needed was some dry track time, so that the teams could get on with the piles of work they still have to do getting ready for the 2016 season, and Michelin could start to get some proper feedback on their slicks.
Their supplications to the heavens did not go unanswered. As the day went on, the sun came out and the track dried out, conditions getting better and better.
By the end of the session, lap times were tumbling, riders getting close to the times set during the race in October, and Maverick Viñales getting a tenth under Marc Márquez’s best race lap.
“Go to Phillip Island to test,” they said. “It will be summer, conditions will be perfect.” What they didn’t say was that this was summer in Phillip Island, a season which can include all four of the other seasons of the year.
Sure, it was warmer than in October, but rain kept blowing in off the Bass Strait, drenching the track, then the winds drying the track out, before another shower drenched the track.
“Honestly, it was a waste of a day for everyone,” was Cal Crutchlow’s assessment of the day. “The last two corners were dry at the end but the first four corners were soaking wet and the rest were somewhere in between.”
Dani Pedrosa was in broad agreement. “I think it’s quite rare to have full wet conditions in this track, because it dries up so quick. We had most of the day, half the track dry, half the track wet, and spraying all the time, and drying again all the time.”
Going by the number of laps posted by each rider – between twenty and thirty, where eighty or ninety might be more normal – the first day of the second MotoGP test at Phillip Island could indeed be regarded as wasted.
Phillip Island is arguably the greatest race track for motorcycles in the world. It is a circuit where every racer wants to race, where every trackday rider wants to cut some laps, where every race fan wants to visit. There are a million reasons to visit Phillip Island, all of them good.
Testing in preparation for a MotoGP season is not one of them, however. Phillip Island has a long history of riders winning based on bravery and ability, rather than equipment.
In October, Maverick Viñales finished in sixth on the massively underpowered Suzuki GSX-RR, just a second behind Dani Pedrosa, who had won a week previously at Motegi and would win a week later at Sepang.
Between the two of them, Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi have won twelve of the last fourteen races on a variety of Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis.
Testing at Phillip Island does not teach you as much about the motorcycle underneath the rider as it does about the rider on top of the motorcycle, and the testicular fortitude they are able to display at the circuit.
Viñales described testing at the track as being about checking to see if he had “the cojones” around the circuit. With a new, more powerful GSX-RR at his disposal, there was one useful aspect of testing at the Island: “I need to use more cojones if I have more power,” he quipped.