During the offseason for the WorldSBK series, I sent our man Steve English on a photo-finding mission. He came back victorious from his endeavor, bringing us our first look at the WorldSBK-spec BMW S1000RR superbike that Tom Sykes will campaign this season.
Today, we have another treasure trove of photos from that outing, as we bring you an “up-close” gallery of Eugene Laverty’s Ducati Panigale V4 RS19 race bike, which was back-to-back testing components at Portimão, ahead of this weekend’s season-opener.
A motorcycle that we have covered extensively here at Asphalt & Rubber, you might be wondering why another Panigale V4 is gracing our pages. For that, let me explain.
Episode 89 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see David Emmett, Steve English, and Jensen Beeler on the mics, as we cover the 2018 WorldSBK Championship season.
The conversation starts with the champions, Jonathan Rea and the Kawasaki Racing Team, and we discuss how this has become the wining package in the WorldSBK paddock, especially with the contrasting fortunes of Tom Sykes.
The discussion includes a short interview with Leon Haslam, as he got his leg over the KRT-spec superbike during the Jerez post-season test.
And the winner is… Takaaki Nakagami! Or at least the LCR Honda rider’s name sit atop the timesheets at the end of the final day of the final MotoGP test of 2018. Which both counts for a lot, and counts for very little at the same time.
The fact that Nakagami was able to do the time is proof that the 2018 Honda RC213V is a much better bike than the 2017 version which the Japanese rider spent last season on – see also the immediate speed of Franco Morbidelli, now he is on the Petronas Yamaha rather than the Marc VDS Honda.
It was also proof that Nakagami – riding Cal Crutchlow’s bike at Jerez – is a much better rider than his results on the 2017 bike suggest. And puts into perspective that this was the bike which Marc Márquez won the 2017 MotoGP title on.
But it also doesn’t really mean very much. Testing is just testing, and the riders don’t necessarily have either the inclination or the tire allocation to go chasing a quick lap time the way they do on a race weekend.
Nobody wants to risk it all just to prove a point and get injured just before they go into the winter break. And with the top 15 within a second of one another, and the top 7 within a quarter of a second, the differences are pretty meaningless anyway.
That’s what the riders will tell you, anyway. And while that is absolutely true, there is also a touch of the Big Book of Rider Excuses about it. Motorcycle racers race because they can’t stand the thought of anyone beating them, being faster than them.
Even when it doesn’t really matter. Just ask anyone who has played cards with a racer.
The trouble with post-season testing is that it takes place after the season is over. That is a problem, because the season runs well into November, so any testing after that is nearer to December than it is to October. And wherever you go inside of Europe to test, you will never get a full day’s testing done, even with the best of weather.
So it came as no surprise that when the track opened at 9:30am on Wednesday morning for the first day of a two-day test, nothing happened.
Or that nothing continued to happen for another couple of hours, as we waited for track temperatures to break the 20°C barrier, and make it warm enough to generate useful feedback. It is a perennial issue with no easy answers. Finding a warm, affordable track is tough this time of year.
The good news was that once the track had warmed up, we had ideal conditions for testing. Dry, sunny, warm if you were standing in the sun, though not quite so much if you were in the shade.
Despite the fact that so much time was lost to the cold, the riders ended up with a lot of laps completed, and a lot of work done.
By the end of the day, almost everyone bar Andrea Iannone had done over 50 laps, with Alex Rins having racked up a grand total of 87 laps on the Suzuki GSX-RR.
Iannone at least had an excuse, a crash costing him most of his afternoon. The crash, it seems, was a result of the Italian’s struggles to get to grips with the front end of the Aprilia RS-GP. A struggle he lost on this occasion.
And so the season ends for WorldSBK. The weather finally behaved at Jerez, and the four WorldSBK teams and three WorldSSP teams got a full day of testing in at Jerez.
Or rather, nearly a full day of testing: the track opened at 10am, but the riders didn’t go out for about 45 minutes, as cold track temperatures made it a perilous undertaking in those early minutes.
But the sun soon did its work, heated the asphalt, and away they went.
Three factories and eight WorldSBK riders turned up at Jerez on Monday, Ducati bringing their brand new Panigale V4R, but at the end, Jonathan Rea was fastest. Plus ça change.
All eyes were on the Ducati garage, and Alvaro Bautista’s first day on the Panigale V4 R. “First day at school” was how the Spaniard characterized it, taking some time to adapt to the bike. It was quite a switch from the Desmosedici he had been riding in MotoGP, the bike having a lot less power.
But, the V4 engine still has plenty, rival teams complaining that the Ducati was 10km/h faster than the others at the Aragon test. Here, the difference was less, but the Panigale was still clearly quicker than the rivals.
Once upon a time, a post-race test would see almost a full complement of riders taking part. But in the past couple of years that has changed, as spec software has meant fewer things to do.
The spec software, the engine freeze, the aerodynamics freeze: there is less to test, and so more factories are opting out of the one-day post-race tests.
So it was at Jerez on Monday that the factory Ducati riders, the Ecstar Suzuki team, and the Gresini Aprilia squad all decided to skip the test at Jerez in favor of some private testing at Mugello later in the week.
Behind closed doors, they can work a little more freely, away from the prying eyes of the press, and especially of a contingent of photographers.
There are other reasons to be wary of a post-race test. The track is in as good a condition as it is going to get on the Monday after a race. It has been swept clean by a weekend of racing, and the last class to smear its rubber all over the track is MotoGP.
So the bikes are treated to a clean, well rubbered in circuit, allowing lap times to drop. The average improvement between the race and the test was nearly 1.3 seconds a lap.
About half the 16 permanent riders who took to the track on Monday improved their times from qualifying. It is fair to say that Monday tests can be deceptive.
The importance of a private test can sometimes be measured by the lack of news emerging from the track. For the past three days, the Jerez circuit has resounded to the bellow of MotoGP and WorldSBK machines, as Honda, Ducati, Aprilia, and KTM have shared the track.
Yet other than a couple of social media posts on Twitter and Instagram, there was next to no news from the test. The only official source was a brief news item on the official website of the Jerez circuit.
Despite that, it was an important test for the factories involved.
With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks.
Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.
The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test.
The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations – new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.
All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November.
Episode 65 of the Paddock Pass Podcast sees Steve English, and David Emmett on the mics, wrapping up all the news from the MotoGP post-season winter testing sessions.
In the show, the guys cover the MotoGP tests at Valencia and Jerez, and give some insight into what to expect from the pre-season tests to come, once the winter testing ban is over and the 2018 season is closer upon us.
Of particular interest is the progress that KTM has made; the choices facing the factory Yamaha team; Honda’s early debut of the 2018 RC213V race bike; and last what to do with the very talented Johann Zarco.
As always, be sure to follow the Paddock Pass Podcast on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to the show on iTunes and SoundCloud – we even have an RSS feed for you. If you like the show, we would really appreciate you giving it a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!
The Jerez MotoGP test provided three of the four MotoGP rookies with a chance to get familiar with their new bikes and their new teams.
The second test is often more important than the first one, as the rookies have had a chance to think about and absorb the data from the first test directly after Valencia, and approach the test with less pressure.
Expectations are mixed for Franco Morbidelli joining the Marc VDS MotoGP team. The last Moto2 champion to move up to MotoGP with Marc VDS was Tito Rabat, and Rabat endured two long and difficult years with the squad.
Morbidelli will be hoping that the Honda RC213V will be a little easier to adapt to than it was for Rabat, and that he will be able to pick up the pace more quickly.
So far, Morbidelli’s progress has been promising. The reigning Moto2 champion ended the Jerez test as eleventh overall among MotoGP riders, 1.260 behind the fastest man Andrea Dovizioso.
Best of all for Morbidelli, he was just a few hundredths behind MotoGP regulars Jack Miller and Scott Redding. There is still much room for improvement, but things are looking positive.
We spoke to Morbidelli on Thursday, his second day on the bike. Here’s what he had to say about the test.