Surprises are the only thing that can be safely predicted about motorbike racing, and Phillip Island is unique enough to deliver them in spades. The long gap, dseven weeks before the second race, gives Phillip Island the air of pre-season testing … with points.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first races of the 2014 season at Phillip Island:
The World Supersport race took part in a dry, 19°C day.
Now we have seen the new format for qualifying and the changes are not as drastic as they may have seemed on paper. Familiarity with the way the MotoGP system worked helped, as did the fact that the new format isn’t that different from the old one.
The continuing worldwide decline in sports bike sales has forced the Superbike Commission to reduce the minimum number of motorcycles to be produced for homologation, to be allowed to take part in the World Superbike series. As of now, manufacturers wishing to race a particular motorcycle must have sold 250 bikes by the end of their first year of racing in WSBK, and 1000 bikes by the end of the second year, half the requirements previously on the books. But manufacturers will still have to have produced 125 bikes before they can even embark on the homologation procedure.
The sales numbers have been reduced in response to the continuing decline in sales of large and middleweight sports bikes around the world, under pressure from increasing speed restrictions and monitoring on public roads. Even Honda is reportedly having problems selling the required numbers of the CBR1000RR SP, despite the popularity of the bike. The declining sports bike market is rumored to have persuaded Honda to shelve its V4 sports bike, which has already been postponed once. Smaller manufacturers have faced similar problems, with Aprilia struggling to sell the RSV4, despite the bike having won two world championships and consistently been a championship contender.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying for the season opener at Phillip Island:
World Supersport qualifying took a few minutes longer than it should, being red-flagged briefly.
Kenan Sofuoglu escaped from the clutches of Michael Van Der Mark by eleven thousandths of a second, retaining the top spot before final qualifying. PJ Jacobsen, the American by way of British Superbike, was in third place ahead of Kev Coghlan and series rookie Ratthapark Wilairot. The MV Agusta pair of Vladimir Leonov and Jules Cluzel are the only other riders under 1'34.
Phillip Island is unique. The opening race is held in the southern hemisphere, seven weeks before the circus gets to Europe. The track has its own climate and last year’s resurfacing still makes the track abrasive. Testing here took place last week, which gave teams a bit of additional setup, but it also took its toll in injuries, something that continued into the qualifying runs. The morning’s session in both Superbike and Supersport were lost to rain, but the afternoon sessions ran without a problem.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first day of practice at Phillip Island:
Without his rival of last year, Sofuoglu showed why he's a favourite for the title this year, setting the fastest time, two-thirds of a second faster than the rest of the field, as soon as conditions allowed, setting the fastest lap just ten minutes into the session. As the only rider to get a 1'33 lap, and several of them at that, pole position is well within his grasp.
Kev Coghlan, second fastest, was able to record a few consistent 1'34s together while Rafael De Rosa in third was only able to get one lap faster than fourth-fastest Michael Van Der Mark, another rider with consistent quick laps.
The opening Free Practice session for World Supersport ended with only four riders recording a complete lap. The rain ensured most riders just stayed in their garages.
As the 2013 World Superbike season ended, the question was how the series, now owned by Dorna, could once more fill the grids. With some races rewarding every finisher with points, while the cheaper Supersport and Superstock championships raced with full grids, it was clear that more seats were needed.
One part of the solution was the new EVO class. Essentially Superbikes with Superstock engines, EVO bikes are much cheaper and, from 2015, will be the standard specification of all bikes, and over a third of the full-time entries in 2014 are EVO bikes, with familiar riders taking some of the seats. Another part of the solution was the addition of several new and returning manufacturers to the series. Alongside Ducati, Aprilia, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki, we now have MV Agusta, Buell and, hopefully, Bimota bringing the number of marques to nine.
Previews of this weekend's World Superbike season opener from the series organizer and some of the teams:
Cirjesa, the body which runs the Circuito de Jerez just north of the Spanish city, and GCJ, the company which organizes the events at the circuit, are under investigation by the Spanish tax authorities and the Spanish organized crime unit for tax evasion. According to reports in the regional Diario de Jerez newspaper, the investigations center around unpaid tax over undeclared income from ticket sales to general admission areas during races, including the MotoGP rounds in recent years.
Both the police and tax authorities have spent the last six months investigating the existence of a second, clandestine set of accounts which are alleged to include the missing income. The alleged fraud was made possible because the general admission areas (the so-called 'Pelousse') are accessible without having an assigned seat number, paying spectators sitting on the grass anywhere around the hillsides overlooking the circuit. Suspicions had been raised by the fact that the number of spectators in the general admission areas seemed to be larger than the numbers officially reported. But without numbered seating, it was impossible for anyone outside of the circuit organization to know the actual numbers of paying spectators.