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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.

Hello from from the Canary Islands, where we have the curious reality of being in both Europe and Africa at the exact same time (the islands are politically part of Spain, and thus the European Union, but sit on the African continental shelf).

A winter retreat for Europeans, the archipelago provides a temperate climate for the elderly, and year-round riding for motorcyclists. As such, we are here to shred some tires, and we will be doing that the press launch for the new Ducati Hypermotard 950.

Ducati has for us a two-part program: a street ride and a half-day of riding on the track, which should help us to evaluate both the base model Hypermotard 950, as well as the up-spec Hypermotard 950 SP.

A motorcycle that is near and dear to this author’s heart, as the two previous models ended up in my garage as personal bikes, bought with my hard-earned blogging dollars, we will be especially keen to see if Ducati has retained the unique character of this plus-sized supermoto, while also refining some of its gremlins.

First it was Ducati Corse in Switzerland, and now it is Repsol Honda in Madrid, as the factory-backed MotoGP team debuted its 2019 team and livery. The bikes look the same, the goal hasn’t changed, but the big news from Sepang was seeing Jorge Lorenzo in Repsol orange.

Lorenzo was wrapped in bandages of course, still fresh from the surgery on his left scaphoid, which he broke while training. This meant his leathers had to be cut along the left arm so he could get in and out of them, and it will also delay some of the press photos of the 2019 Honda RC213V race bike.

As far as debuts go, that is not a great start, but it will have little effect on perhaps the biggest shakeup in the MotoGP paddock over the past few seasons.

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.

Arguably the biggest superbike announcement for the 2019 model year, the Ducati Panigale V4 R is getting no shortage of press, and it is easy to see why.

With 217hp (162 kW) on tap, removable winglets, a WorldSBK title to win, dry clutch, and a $40,000 price tag, there are no shortage of things to talk about when it comes to the Panigale V4 R.

The Ducati looks great in race trim, and it doesn’t take much to boost the machine’s peak horsepower figure to 231 hp (172 kW).

In its racing trim, the Ducati Panigale V4 RS19 will climb to over 17,000 rpm – that is, at least until the WorldSBK performance-balancing rules get ahold of it.

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. 

Episode 87 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and in it we see David Emmett and Steve English on the mics, as they cover the recent Valencia GP as well as the post-season Valencia test.

The start of the conversation covers obviously the weather, which played another large role in a MotoGP weekend. With the MotoGP race seeing another red flag stop because of rain, the show covers the challenges that Race Direction faces in making such calls, and whether they were correct in this instance.

The conversation then turns to the bikes on the grid, specifically comparing the Honda to the Ducati. There is also talk about the rise of the Suzuki, which might be the third best machine in the MotoGP paddock – something that worry those in Yamaha garages. With the KTM making progress, the competition is certainly getting more fierce.

Wrapping up talk about the race, our attention goes to the post-season test, which saw a number of riders making their maiden voyages on new motorcycles. The focus of the conversation though is about how important the two-day test is, in terms of getting things right for the 2019 season.

It’s been a difficult test at Valencia. The weather simply hasn’t played ball. Tuesday started wet, took a few hours to dry out, then rain started falling around 3pm, meaning the riders effectively had around two and a half usable hours on track.

Rain on Tuesday evening meant the track was wet on Wednesday morning, and in the chill of a November morning, it took a couple of hours before the track dried out enough for the riders to hit the track.

At least it stayed dry and sunny throughout the day, and the last couple of hours saw the best conditions of the test, times dropping until falling temperatures put paid to any thought of improvement. The teams may have lost time, but at least they had a solid four and a half hours of track time to work.

For half the factories, what they were focusing on was engines. Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki all brought new engines to test, and in the case of Yamaha and Honda, two different specs.

Ducati was mainly working with a new chassis, aimed at making the bike turn better. Aprilia had a new engine and a new frame to try. And as usual, KTM had a mountain of parts and ideas to test.