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20 Helmikuu 2024

Final Test Heralds A New WorldSBK Season

After the completion of a one-day pre-season DWO supported test at Phillip Island in Australia the 2024 Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK line-up of Alex Lowes and Axel Bassani will soon take part in the opening round of the new season.

Two-days of testing were planned for this week at Phillip Island but the available track time was, by necessity, compressed into one intense day of action in warm and humid conditions. The championship’s tyre transport containers were held up on the journey to Australia, preventing all the FIM Superbike Championship teams from taking to the track as planned on Monday 19 February. As a result, the WorldSBK test was reduced to one day on Tuesday 20 February, with the WorldSSP riders and teams completed all their testing the day before.

Several early stoppages for red flag incidents made an already busy Tuesday even more intense for the WorldSBK teams. On the positive side, the weather was kind, offering up warm conditions to complete vital final tasks before qualifying and racing starts for real on Friday 23 February.

In the final pre-season combined test rankings Alex Lowes finished fifth fastest after a day spent working to make set-up decisions to race with his Ninja ZX-10RR in a few day’s time. Lowes’ best single lap time was a 1’29.211.

Axel Bassani completed his set-up work before setting a best lap time of 1’29.406. Ninth fastest in the second session Axel placed tenth overall. In all, 23 riders took part in the test at some stage.

After the tests have been completed, attention now turns to the opening round of the season, which will also be held at the classic 4.445km long Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit on the south coast of Australia.

The first of 12 scheduled rounds, Phillip Island has now became almost a fixture as the opening round of the season. It is held during what is the end of the Australian summer months, making it a popular event with the predominantly European-based teams and riders.

The completely re-laid track surface at Phillip Island offered up phenomenal levels of grip but also premature tyre wear for some teams and riders. There will now be discussions to determine if there two scheduled 22-lap WorldSBK races should remain at full distance, be run over a reduced lap total or become flag-to-flag races, with mandatory pitstops to change tyres.

Lowes scored his Kawasaki race win at PI in 2020, his first season in KRT colours. Bassani will have his first competitive rides for Kawasaki at this round. He only joined the official KRT squad last winter after winning two Independent Riders’ Championships in the past two seasons, as a ‘privateer.’

With all possible steps now taken in winter testing and preparation the first track action begins at PI on 23 February. Superpole qualifying and Race One will be held on Saturday 24 February, with the short Superpole Race and Race Two being held on Sunday 25 February.

Alex Lowes, stated: “The test was good. The new surface is really fast, so it feels like a different track to the one we used in the past. We worked really hard on trying to make the used tyres last and it is going to be interesting to see what the organisers do. For me, the tyres were OK, even after 18-19 laps. But for some people after six or seven laps, they are struggling. I was using the SC2 in the front, trying to make the bike work well over the longer distance. So, if we make a pitstop some of today’s work will not be relevant. The bike felt nice to ride around the track, and there is so much grip that every corner you have your elbow on the floor. I guess it is about 1.5 seconds per lap faster than the past, so it is hard to get your head around it. The lap times are so, so close between around 15 riders, if we have a shorter race then the guys with a lot of power and more top speed will not have to look after their tyres as much. We will wait and see. The guys in the team did a really good job. We had no issues and I think we did 90 laps, which is a good day’s work. I am now looking forward to race weekend.”

Axel Bassani, stated: “The test I think was good. We tried a lot of things and every time we made a little step forward. We started to be near to the top five. It was not easy because now the level is incredible. Today, for two tenths or three tenths, I was tenth or 11th. Incredible, a crazy situation. But we did, I think, a really good job. At the end of the day we started to push to set some fast laps. I made a mistake in the first sector of my best lap, so I think it was possible to be higher up the order without that mistake. Looking to the race weekend, I think our pace over race distance is not bad. All the riders seem to have a problem with the tyres after ten or 12 laps, so we will see what happens. At the moment, for me, it is better to divide the long races in two, but we will see what they decide.”

Pere Riba, Crew Chief for Alex Lowes, stated: “We have tested with Alex four or five times  and the jobs we have done during the winter are bearing some fruit. I know Alex better and I am positive. But, I do not want to talk yet, I want to see some race results. Also, it will be a little bit different this weekend because maybe there will be a decision to race flag-to-flag. To have a race of 22 laps or ten laps is a huge difference in the approach to the set-up - everything. So this means it can be a little bit strange. But the test has been very positive; Alex has been very strong and no mistakes. He is happy with the bike, strong on race tyres and consistent. So far it is good. I am happy and the most important thing is that I am happy with Alex. He is working hard, working well, calm and he understands the way I like to work step-by-step. His attitude is positive and open-minded.”

Marcel Duinker, Crew Chief for Axel Bassani, stated: “I actually enjoyed the format with everything squeezed in one day. It was nice because I think we work well under pressure. We had a proper winter test programme but today we made the step which was necessary to face the first race weekend of the year. Of course, Axel is still fresh on the bike, with not so much experience of it, so we tried to give him more front end confidence to enter every turn. We made the step that was necessary because to finish two tenths from Alex, who is the reference in the team, was good. We haven’t been that close until now. Axel also says he feels better every time he jumps on the bike when we make adjustments. We have really prepared ourselves for race weekend - with a Superpole simulation, pitstops and practice starts. We had a very good day and we will be ready to go on Friday morning.”

Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), like all his peers, had an intense final day of pre-season preparations on his full-spec Ninja ZX-10RR machine. This season Tito will race on a machine prepared and supplied directly from KRT. He ended the test in 21st position.