Carlos Checa has removed any lingering doubts about the competitiveness of the Ducati 1199 Panigale R, after controlling the second and final day of testing for the World Superbike class at Phillip Island, and ending the test as fastest overall. The Spaniard started the day fast, and ended the day fast, maintaining a strong pace throughout.
Checa was fastest in both wet – or rather, damp – conditions and in the dry. The second day of testing started out with a damp track, a number of riders choosing to stay in the pits instead of risking uncertain conditions on the newly resurfaced track, but the track soon dried out, and conditions improved greatly in the afternoon.
Leon Camier has carried his strong form from last week’s private test at Phillip Island into the official test which started at the circuit on Monday. The FIXI Crescent Suzuki man used a race tire to lap half a second under Max Biaggi’s race lap record, then going on to post a strong race simulation.
The improvements the Crescent Suzuki squad have made, in conjunction with the Japanese Yoshimura company, are clearly paying off, the Suzuki lapping a second quicker than it did at the test last year.
Camier ended the session ahead of Pata Honda’s Leon Haslam, the Ten Kate team well on their way to mastering the new HRC electronics, with still some potential left to come. Haslam was within two tenths of Camier, and just a few thousandths behind Michel Fabrizio, the Italian impressing on the Red Devils Roma Aprilia.
The second day of the private test for the World Superbike teams at Phillip Island went very much as the first day did: with fast times, and a lot of crashes. The new surface was to blame for both: Leon Camier got half a second under the race lap record, but the on/off grip levels of the track saw him, and almost every one else, flung off their bikes at one point or another.
Camier ended the day fastest, the engine updates on his FIXI Crescent Suzuki improving the machine considerably, along with electronic updates for the bike. Sylvain Guintoli – the man Suzuki originally signed alongside Camier, but who jumped ship for the factory Aprilia ride – was 2nd, a tenth off the pace of Camier, proving that the Aprilia RSV4 still a potent weapon.
Johnny Rea put the Pata Honda into 3rd, with work continuing on ironing out the wrinkles with the HRC electronics, with both Rea and Haslam pleased with the progress made, though still aware of the task ahead. Marco Melandri was the fastest BMW man, though the Italian was wary of pushing too hard for fear of crashing, and adding further damage to his painful shoulder. Melandri did put in a long run on used tires, running a consistent string of laps around the 1’32 mark, a solid race pace.
While the Moto2 and Moto3 riders finish up their test at Valencia, on the other side of the world, the World Superbike and World Supersport riders are beginning the final run in to the season opener in 10 days’ time.
They started today with the first of two days of private testing, the first chance the riders get to see the resurfaced Phillip Island track. The overall reaction to the new surface was very positive, though the lack of rubber on the track caused a spot of mayhem in the morning, with several riders crashing out.
Fastest man of the day was Eugene Laverty on the factory Aprilia, the Irishman circulating at lap record pace, but still a second off the pole record. Leon Camier put the Fixi Suzuki into 2nd spot, ahead of the Pata Hondas of Johnny Rea and Leon Haslam, while Marco Melandri ended the day in 5th. Carlos Checa did not ride, as the 2011 World Champion was suffering with a stomach bug.
As the other motorcycling World Championship, World Superbike has its own amazing stories to tell, stories often very weird relative to what we are used to in MotoGP. When I went to shoot WSBK for the first time, some of my MotoGP buddies told me the same thing: don’t get spoiled, it’s a different world there. Indeed, one MotoGP veteran left Grand Prix to make his new home in WSBK and hired someone else to cover the Aliens on his behalf.
Instead of three riders on the grid fighting among themselves for the victory, WSBK saw six different winners in the first six races of the 2012 season. Instead of three manufacturers (well, two, really) fighting for wins in MotoGP, five stood atop the WSBK podium in those first six races. With one race weekend to go, nine riders have won races. Compared to MotoGP, talk about weird!
Instead of riders over 30-years-old being hounded by lightning-fast 20-somethings, riders seem to bloom around 40, enjoying second or even third winds in their careers. The lower level of technology allows rider experience to count against the raw physical talent of youth. The playing field is more even, the racing is less about having the latest parts that separate the factory teams from the satellite ones.
Tom Sykes is a motorbike racer who could be the next WSBK world champion, and a protagonist in a story remarkably different from the usual MotoGP fare. Sykes is 30.5 points behind Biaggi with one round, two races, and 50 points to go.