Episode 93 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see Steve English joined by Gordon Ritchie on the mics, as they are now our WorldSBK reporting duo for the 2019 season.

Before we get into the show details, we should apologize for the audio quality on this episode. The circumstances of the weekend meant that it had to be recorded in a busy café, rather than a studio setting.

Rather than kill the show, we thought we’d publish it for those who can get through the clamoring dishes and noisy kids, because there is some really, really good WorldSBK knowledge shared between these two industry veterans.

That’s it! That is a wrap from Phillip Island and the opening round of the WorldSBK Championship season. It was a good showing for superbike racing, with a shakeup in the order of things.

The narrative for 2019 very much looks to continue the Ducati vs. Kawasaki trend from the last few seasons, but the list of riders who could be in the hunt has certainly widened.

The new Superpole Race format seems to be a hit as well, with the sprint race showing itself to be a gloves-off affair amongst the riders, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering that there are points and grid position on the line.

Phillip Island is always a wild card when it comes to predicting the season, and the next round in Thailand should give us more bearing on the state of the series, but we like what we see so far.

Speaking of which, we like what we see from Stephen McClements’ select photos from Australia on Sunday. Give them a look and enjoy!

Photos: © 2019 Stephen McClements – All Rights Reserved

Shooting Saturday’s practice sessions and the first race of the 2019 season, Stephen brings us our first glimpse of superbike racing action this year.

We won’t hit you with any spoilers, but if the rest of the season pans out like Race 1 did on Saturday, WorldSBK fans are in for quite a treat this year.

Photos: © 2019 Stephen McClements – All Rights Reserved

We have two Steves in Phillip Island this weekend for the WorldSBK, and for this gallery we are featuring the work of Mr. Stephen McClement. Shooting Friday’s practice sessions, Stephen brings us our first on-track glimpses of the 2019 season in proper.

The day’s activities saw Alvaro Bautista keeping his top spot from the testing days, but he only leads Jonathan Rea by a narrow margin of 0.014 seconds. Leon Haslam is in the charge as well, just 0.155 seconds back himself, while Lowes and Camier were closer to half a second back.

Chaz Davies finds himself surprisingly over a second behind his teammate, which doesn’t bode well for his championship. Though, we have many, many laps still to come from the season-opener.

And also, we have many more photos from Stephen still to come. Until then, enjoy this modest selection.

Photos: © 2019 Stephen McClements – All Rights Reserved

Steve sent us these photos from the WorldSBK test at Phillip Island, and it seemed like a good excuse to try the new “gallery post” function we’ve been working on for the site. Let us know what you think of the snaps, as well as this new feature.

Also, get excited for looks to be a cracking year in the WorldSBK Championship. The Australian round should be a real scrap, and it will be interesting to see the new Superpole Race format in the flesh. All that being said, who is your favorite to win?

Photos: © 2019 Steve English – All Rights Reserved

This World Superbike story is made possible by our A&R Pro members. If you like reading WorldSBK stories on Asphalt & Rubber, you should consider supporting this content by signing up for an A&R Pro account.

Episode 91 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see Neil Morrison, and Steve English on the mics, as we ramp up for the 2019 World Superbike Championship season.

With the WorldSBK paddock descending on Phillip Island this week, we see the riders getting their last pre-season testing done, before they head into the weekend’s season-opening round.

Who are the hot favorites? Who will be the dark horses? Who has made the most progress? And who remains a complete mystery? The guys discuss all that and more in this edition of the podcast.

Phillip Island is a glorious race track, in a glorious setting, with a history of serving up glorious racing, especially when the weather plays ball. On Sunday, it did just that, the circuit bathed in warm sunshine, almost taking the edge off the antarctic chill which can still hit the circuit in very early spring.

And great weather brought fantastic racing, starting with a spectacularly insane Moto3 race, followed up with a thrilling Moto2 race, and finally topped off with an intriguing and incident-packed MotoGP race.

The MotoGP grid arrived at Phillip Island mindful of the lessons of last year. In 2017, a large group had battled for the win for 20+ laps, until their tires were shot. Marc Márquez, having been mindful of his tires for much of the race, made his move in the last five laps, opening a gap over the chasing group of a couple of seconds. Everyone Márquez had beaten last year had spent the weekend concentrating on tire preservation for the last part of the race.

“Last year we lost the race because the last five laps, we didn’t have anything more,” Andrea Iannone said after practice. “Everybody had one or two tenths more than us, and at the end, finished in front of us.” Jack Miller, who had led the race for the first four laps in 2017, finishing seventh behind Iannone, made a similar point.

“What I learned from last year is try to manage the tire a little bit better,” the Australian said. “We’ve been playing a lot with the maps and setting up for the race. It’s not going to be a crazy fast race, almost from the get go, but it’ll wind up sort of five, six laps to go.”

Racing is always about balancing risk and reward, but sometimes, that balance is put into very stark contrast. Phillip Island is a very fast track with notoriously blustery weather, with strong winds commonly blowing in rain showers.

The weather gods have not looked kindly on this year’s Australian Grand Prix, though it has stayed largely dry. Gale-force winds, icy temperatures, and the occasional downpour have, shall we say, livened the proceedings up considerably.

The upside to being battered by strong winds is that the weather can blow out again as quickly as it blew in. Scattered showers are just that: scattered away towards the mainland in the blink of an eye. But they can be scattered over the circuit again in a matter of minutes.

This does not exactly make things easy for the MotoGP riders. Heading along the front straight well north of 330km/h and seeing spots on your visor, then wondering whether Doohan Corner, a 200+km/h corner is going to be completely dry or not is, shall we say, unnerving.

Doing all that during qualifying, when you know you only have 15 minutes to post a quick time, doubly so. As the reward goes up, so does the tolerance for risk.

Phillip Island is a magnificent circuit. Perched on the edge of the Bass Strait, it is a visceral thrill in a spectacular setting. It is fast, flowing, the very essence of what a race track is supposed to be. But all that glory comes at a price. It is also a dangerous place. When you crash at Phillip Island, then it hurts, and more often than not, it hurts a lot.

Veteran US journalist Dennis Noyes points out that in the 1990s, the FIM commissioned a study into crashes at various tracks. The track with the most crashes, Estoril, had the fewest serious injuries. The track with the fewest crashes was Phillip Island.

But it was also the track with the most injuries. The difference? Estoril was the slowest track on the calendar, thanks to a couple of tight turns, while Phillip Island was the fastest. Newton’s second law is immutable, and enforced 100% of the time.

The weather makes things even more complicated. A freezing wind blows in with great force off the Bass Strait, sucking any heat you may have generated out of your tires. Cold tires plus high speeds are a recipe for disaster, and hospital food. “Obviously the weather is really strange here,” Aleix Espargaro said on Thursday.

“Very cold, not easy to warm the tires. I would say that it’s one of the more, close to being dangerous tracks that we have on the calendar, but I don’t know why this makes the track enjoyable, and I think almost all riders like this layout.” Behold the dilemma of Phillip Island.