TESTING ENDS AS NEW SEASON ARRIVES
Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes completed their final two days of pre-season WorldSBK testing between 20-21 February at the same Phillip Island circuit that will host the start of the 2023 season in a few days time. Rea finished fifth fastest overall, with Lowes in 15th place.
The 4.445km long Australian circuit near the ocean delivered warm and dry weather as the 22 WorldSBK riders made their final preparations to meet the challenge of the opening round. A stiff and gusting breeze from the sea complicated things on the final day, with the best track conditions for outright grip appearing to be in the morning session.
With some upgrades to the Ninja ZX-10RR this season both KRT riders worked towards maximising performance in real race conditions, and ensuring that their tyres will last full race distance at the toughest circuit on the calendar in terms of tyre wear.
Rea had relatively slow falls at Turn Four on each day of testing but carried on at a strong pace after pitting to make repairs. He set 38 laps in the final afternoon test session, but his best lap of 1’30.716 was set in the morning of the final day.
Lowes set his personal best of 1’31.549 in the third of the four long track sessions in total. He and his crew continued to try to find the best potential with the new homologation of Ninja ZX-10RR.
Now attention turns to the start of the 2023 season itself, with the opening round at Phillip Island to be held between 24 and 26 February. As ever there will be three WorldSBK races for the spectators to enjoy – two full-distance races and one ten-lap Superpole Race on Sunday morning.
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “Today we tried a 2022 spec bike versus the 2023 spec bike in the afternoon session. There are positives and negatives with both but I preferred to stick with the 2023 bike. Unfortunately, doing a race simulation, on about lap 14, I got caught out in Turn Four. The wind was very gusty and it is coming in strongly from the sea, and I was pushing at my limit – clearly. I had very positive sensations during that long run and I was able to stay in the 1’31 laps times. That pace is where I need to be to fight for the podium. After that we tried the SC0 rear tyre because Pirelli asked me to do a longer run to evaluate how it would perform in the Superpole race. Our tyre performance was good and from an electronics point of view I am really happy with the steps we have made inside the team. I am more satisfied with the bike than yesterday. Clearly there is potential with the new bike and we have to keep working to extract that potential. We have made a step compared to last year, I feel. For race weekend, I feel we can fight for the podium.”
Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “I feel like we are struggling a bit. The updates we had in the winter don’t seem to be working as well here. We made some positive steps in the last session today, but we have some work to do. What we found in Europe, in cooler test conditions, has not been the same here. I did not do a time attack but the position on the timesheets is still a lot lower than I would want it to be. I just used race tyres but we still have work to do. We raced here at the end of last year and right now I don’t feel as comfortable as I did then. I was faster in the morning than the afternoon, when it was a bit gripper, and I have been wary to not make too many mistakes. We saw a lot of crashes in WorldSBK and WorldSSP. So I just wanted to keep my powder dry in some ways, but I have not been ‘sandbagging’ and then feel like I am going to win the race. That said I was 15th in testing in 2020 and then went on to win a race, so that might be a good sign!”
Pere Riba (Crew Chief for Jonathan Rea): “We did a lot of laps in testing and we were up, down, but the races will be different. It was windy here and Jonathan had two falls, so we need to analyse and understand what has happened, of course. For the rest, we know that this track is very demanding, especially to keep the pace all the way to the end. So this is what we mainly focused on, to make the tyre wear more linear from the beginning to the end. For race weekend we need to put everything together and we have enough data. We have all the information from the Jerez and Portimao tests with the items we have this year, so we will try to put it all together and get the best from the package.”
Marcel Duinker (Crew Chief for Alex Lowes): “We are still working to get the best potential out of the new developments for his season. We were really focusing on race pace to be ready for the coming weekend, rather than going for a fast single lap time. Always, in terms of lap times, the Phillip Island test looks very different compared to how the races are, and who wins the races. We gathered a lot of data over these two days and from the previous tests, so now we will work on finding the best bike set-up in readiness for the first round of the season.”