Phillip Island, Australia
The opening race weekend of the year was at a freshly-resurfaced Phillip Island, a job that's needed doing for a while that required building an asphalt batching plant on the island. This 3 million Australian dollar undertaking that required 5,000 tonnes of secret Phillip Island recipe asphalt even carried on into the weekend as support staff were seen pumping seams of epoxy resin into newly formed gaps at the edge of the track after the stresses of the first race.
Pirelli knew of the surface composition in advance, being one of the few people sworn to secrecy by the track owners, and constructed tyres accordingly. The grip levels on the track were increased, causing more abrasion than previously and in the Superbike class, the wheels were increased from 16.5" to 17", throwing two unknowns at Pirelli. Luckily, there were two tests at the island track just before the race, giving everyone the feedback necessary. Unfortunately, the proximity of the test to the race would not give anyone time to make drastic changes, if they became necessary. Going in to the race weekend, this thrust tyre talk to the forefront of any conversation, drowning out even discussions of Ducati's new race bike.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, as well as the series organizer, after the first round of WSBK at Phillip Island:
Carlos Checa was unable to start race two, moving Eugene Laverty into pole position and promoting Tom Sykes to the front row. Everyone knew how the tyres would work, freeing them up to just get on with the racing.
Running only fifteen laps, the race started late as Araldite was pumped into fresh cracks on some corners; The battle between asphalt and tyre turned out different to expectations in the Superbike race.
Kenan Sofuoglu had his work cut out for him, with Sam Lowes blitzing qualifying. His title defence would start as second-favourite for the race and with the shortened distance, he would have to get a better start than Lowes as if he let the Englishman get the slightest lead, he would never catch him.
Twenty two dry laps in Australia where tyre wear was a concern before the race started, but in the end, the Pirellis lasted the distance.
It feels like a blessing to be able to start a report without having to discuss the weather and how it adversely affected the sessions. Here’s hoping that the rest of the year follows suit as 2012 may have provided us with entertaining weather, it did get a bit much at times, to the point of being dangerous.
The first weekend’s qualifying is over, with mixed results. Pirelli will be leaving the island under a dark cloud as Supersport tyres were reported to be suffering to such a degree on the new asphalt that the race on Sunday has had six laps lopped off it for safety. Five red flags and a premature ending to the first Supersport session set the tone yet as the weekend progressed, the incidents became fewer as survival instincts adjusted to the new dangers. It remains to be seen if the Superbike race will be impacted by dodgy rubber, but a few riders were capable of stringing together long runs on tyres that didn’t degrade too much.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, as well as the series organizer, after qualifying on Saturday at Phillip Island:
On Sunday, the World Supersport race will be reduced to a 15-lap race due to concerns over the longevity of the Pirelli tyres available on the resurfaced track. The final qualifying session was completed without any major incidents or stoppages.
This year, only 15 riders qualify for Superpole with three eliminated after the first of the three sessions. This is due to the switch to MotoGP-like three bike wide grids. There are three twelve minute sessions with three riders eliminated after each of the sessions with the last session determining the grid positions for the first three rows. As it was last year, each rider gets two Pirelli qualifying tyres to use across the three sessions.
The session was red-flagged when Leon Haslam's radiator hose split, and there were crashes from Marco Melandri and Michel Fabrizio. Melandri was able to finally get to the top of the timing screen, just before he crashed. Sylvain Guintoli was the only other man in the 1'30s, ahead of Carlos Checa and Tom Sykes. With the Superpole entrants already decided, riders were able to use the session to chase settings. Eugene Laverty, Michel Fabrizio, Leon Camier and Marco Melandri were able to peel off strings of 1'31 laps, with Laverty even recording 15 laps at that pace.
Sam Lowes topped the timing screen again, albeit not with as fast a time as he recorded in timed qualifying, and again Kenan Sofuoglu was the only man able to get close. Michael Van Der Mark shows once again that he was an inspired signing by Honda, while Vladimir Leonov demonstrated that Lowes isn't the only fast Yamana man. Roberto Rolfo again made an unexpected appearance near the top, behind Kevin Coghlan. Fabien Foret was absent from his usual region due to an early crash.
Leon Camier was the first rider to get a lap under 1'31, even though his Suzuki was slower in a straight line than his team-mate's, but his top spot was toppled four minutes from the end by this weekend's fast man Michel Fabrizio on a privateer Aprilia.
Tom Sykes, a man who has been absent from the sharpest end thus far, made an appearance in provisional third place, showing that it'll take more than a fractured wrist to slow him down. The factory Aprilias of Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli were split by Marco Melandri, all three of whom were under 1'31 by the end of the session.
Two Australian wildcards, Jamie Stauffer and Glen Allerton, qualified in the top 16, which would have earnined them places in this afternoon's Superpole session last year, but with only 15 going through this year, due to the three bike wide grid, Allerton just misses out.
Ayrton Badovini was unable to start as his crash yesterday left him with a broken foot, ruling him out for the rest of the weekend.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first day of practice at Phillip Island:
Press releases previews, complete with video, from some of the World Superbike and World Supersport teams from Phillip Island:
Michel Fabrizio took the top spot off fellow Aprilia rider Eugene Laverty at the end of the session. Marco Melandri and Leon Camier rounded out the top four, but it was very close for the top 12, right back to Carlos Checa. While the Aprilias of Fabrizio and Laverty were clear at the top, the next ten places were all within half a second.