Steve English


David “Davo” Johnson is back at the TT, and the Australian keeps learning and keeps improving. The Honda rider has spent ten years keeping a lid on expectations, and he’s now keen to put his lessons to good use

The Isle of Man TT is sink or swim. Some riders take to it like a duck to water, and others realize that it is just not for them.

It is the most unique race on the motorcycle calendar. It is you against the track. It is you against the clock. It is you against yourself.

For David Johnson though, this year is different. He is a factory Honda rider for the first time, and the Australian is doing all he can to make sure that he keeps the pressure to a minimum.

There is nothing quite like the Isle of Man TT. It is the most spectacular race on the motorsport calendar. The Senior TT is the Superbowl and Indy 500 combined. It is a national holiday where the race track takes center stage.

It is also one of the most dangerous races in the world. For every rider that swings their leg over their bikes at the TT, they know the risks and they accept them.

But what is it that makes a rider willing to take those risks? The “buzz” is obviously high on the list but another factor for some is a simple basic fact of life; they need to work.

Last year he broke the lap record and claimed the Senior TT, and while Peter Hickman might start this year’s TT as the firm favorite for overall honors, the 32-year-old faces the end of his career unless he was willing to race on the roads.

The Isle of Man TT is 37.75 miles of asphalt through small villages and beautiful Manx countryside – the goal is to complete it in under 17 minutes, and at an average speed of over 135mph. Any mistake can be your last.

This is the most spectacular race track in the world. This is the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course.

Learning your way around the Isle of Man TT course is a mammoth task though. There is literally too much going on for your brain to comprehend it.

When riders talk about the course they piece together section by section. Where are the bumps? Where are the traffic lights? Where are the road signs? Where are the painted kerbs?

The check boxes are getting ticked by the Ducati Panigale V4 R. WorldSBK race winner? Check! British Superbike race winner? Check! Road Racing winner? Not just yet.

The Ducati Panigale V4 R was designed and developed to dominate, and Gigi Dall’igna has said that the goal is to make the bike the most sought after Superbike in every paddock.

Last year the Italian spoke about how important it was to win the North West 200 because this was a race that Ducati had never won. Breaking new ground was important 12 months ago, and it’s even more important now.

The new bike is one that can, in theory, be a contender at the Suzuka 8 Hours, and finally give Ducati a reliable platform to compete at races such as that. The North West 200 is also a potential precursor to once again seeing Ducati on the roads of the Isle of Man.

This bike has the potential to be a real challenger, but it will take success this weekend to really show just how good the Panigale V4 R can become.

To find out what goes into making a bike into a contender on the roads Asphalt & Rubber talked with Paul Bird Motorsport to find out exactly what it takes.

“I’ve had to pinch myself leaving Imola in the past.” That’s how Chaz Davies sums up his relationship with the Italian circuit and the Ducatisti in a few short words.

Winning four races in a row at an Italian circuit on an Italian bike will make for some great memories. Unfortunately for the Welshman, he hasn’t looked like adding to those memories this season.

The Ducati Panigale V4 R is the newest bike on the Superbike block, and as you’d expect it is the most advanced bike on the WorldSBK grid. 

The Italian manufacturer has developed a tremendous package over the winter, to immediately vault to the top of the pile in the production based series, and with Alvaro Bautista having been undefeated in the opening two rounds of the championship, he has laid the foundations of a very strong title challenge.

This is a production based series, and Ducati has developed a so-called ‘homologation special.’ While the rest of the grid comprises of heavily developed machinery, the Ducati was developed as a no holds barred, pure bred racing machine.

This is a throwback to a bygone era when the likes of Honda would develop their Superbike machinery with the sole goal of winning the title.

No compromises are made with a homologation special. Other than costing a maximum of €40,000, there is very little that isn’t maximised on the machinery.

There is no challenge like Buriram on the WorldSBK calendar. It is the hottest round of the year, and it places huge physical and mental demands on riders. With temperatures expected to be in the high 100°F’s, the sun and heat will sap the power from riders.

Leon Camier has described racing in those conditions as “brutal” in the past and he’s not wrong. To get an idea of what the riders will go through this weekend, try sitting in a sauna for 30 minutes and then imagine doing that while your heart is racing and you’re wearing leathers and a helmet.

Before travelling to Thailand, I tried to put myself into a rider’s frame of mind and the results were interesting to say the least. We’ve all heard that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s a lie. I didn’t die, but I definitely wasn’t strong afterwards!

“There’s no replacement for displacement” in racing but what about power? In particular what about peak power and where a bike reaches it?

For WorldSBK purposes, the peak power of an engine is defined as the rev limit on the production machine, plus 3%.

Calculating this takes a little bit more math, as it requires you to average the rev limit from both the third and fourth gears, and then once this has been established, the FIM typically add an extra 3% to that RPM figure.

The rev limits are defined at the start of the championship season, but they aren’t set in stone for the duration of the championship. They can be changed at the discretion of organisers as the year progresses.

Having been introduced to much fanfare 12 months ago, the new limits are of interest again in 2019 because we have new bikes on the grid. The most newsworthy new machine is the headline grabbing Ducati Panigale V4 R, but it should be noted that  Kawasaki, BMW and Honda also have newly homologated bikes, and thus also new rev limits.

Kawasaki has ushered in a new era for its WorldSBK program, as the Japanese brand continues to be the team to beat.

For 2019, the Provec Racing run operation has cut ties with Tom Sykes and brought Leon Haslam back to the world stage to partner Jonathan Rea.

After four years of tension spilling over in the garage between two world champions, there is a hope that Haslam – the reigning British Superbike champion – can finally bring harmony between both sides of the garage.

If Tiger Woods needs a swing coach it stands to reason that even a world-class motorcycle racer needs a coach too.

Gone are the days where riders eschewed coaching – now they are embracing it. In paddocks, like in any walk of life, keeping up with the Joneses is a factor of life. When one rider makes a change, it forces others to do the same.

When world class racers got to the point of diminishing returns, like when it comes to fitness training, their focus turned to having more bike time with flat track or supermoto riding taking on extra significance.

Now it’s coaching that is taking center stage.

“When the music stops you need to grab a seat,” is a kids game, but in the grown-up business of the paddock, it is still just as relevant as if you were at a birthday party.

Unfortunately for Eugene Laverty, he’s been left as one of the last riders chasing a seat for 2019, and with Marco Melandri, Loris Baz, Jordi Torres, and Xavi Fores all also running in circles, the clock is ticking until the music stops for good.

Having thought that he’d be sticking with Shaun Muir Racing for next year, as the team switches to BMW machinery, the Irishman now finds himself on the outside looking in. From feeling secure that he would have a good ride for 2019, he suddenly finds himself staring at limited opportunities.