Jerez and Portimao gave us a first glimpse of what to expect in the season to come, with stories in abundance up and down pitlane
It was a packed set of tests across the Circuito de Jerez – Angel Nieto and the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in the past two weeks, with the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship edging closer to firing into life. Whether it was tech innovations, our first look at rookies, team personnel changes or rider form throughout the track action, we debrief pre-season testing so far and check out the key takeaways ahead of the season starting.
WILL 2023 BE THE FASTEST YEAR YET? Testing says YES
Last year, seven circuits saw their pole lap record obliterated but so far in testing, the trend seems to be that more of the same could be on the way. At Jerez, Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) was chasing a new lap record but couldn’t quite get there, whilst at Portimao, reigning World Champion Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) led the charge to the top, as he was one of four riders under the lap record. Razgatlioglu, Bautista’s teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi and six-time World Champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) were all there too, making it an exciting prospect for the year ahead. However, it is worth noting that testing times occurred during cooler temperatures, always favourable for time attacks; testing also doesn’t see the same stringency in track limits as they are private, so there’s no way to tell either way if track limits were exceeded in any case on any lap from any rider on track.
HAVE THE TITANIC TRIO BEEN CAUGHT? Rinaldi on the pace
2020 was all about Jonathan Rea vs then-factory Ducati rider Scott Redding, whilst 2021 saw the emergence of Toprak Razgatlioglu as the one rider to topple Rea in a thrilling head-to-head season-long showdown. However, 2022 will be remembered for Bautista’s return to the red of Ducati, thus forming the ‘titanic trio’ at the front. Bautista, Razgatlioglu and Rea – three different riders, nationalities and personalities, on three different bikes and with three different engine configurations, going hard at it all season. Countless battles peppered with clashes and post-race fall-out, it cemented this era of WorldSBK as one of the fiercest.
But will that change in 2023? Whilst it is only testing and we should read into it with the proverbial pinch of salt, two tests at separate circuits showed that Michael Ruben Rinaldi was right on the money and he even topped day one at Portimao. The charismatic Italian was a winner in 2021 but struggled to find consistent results each weekend, whilst in 2022, he was consistent but struggled to reach the peaks of the year before. In 2023, he’s changed his personal trainer, the same as Alvaro Bautista and Andrea Dovizioso, who shared some “tips” with Rinaldi about preparation. With this new approach and a strong start in testing, can it be translated once racing gets underway?
HONDA UP THEIR GAME: Japanese engineers in attendance
2022 saw Honda make steps with a refreshed line-up as the youthful exuberance of Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) and teammate Xavi Vierge was favoured over valued experience like in years gone by. However, whilst closing the gap and being more competitive more regularly, they weren’t able to make it to the top step. Swingarm variations, different engine specifications, new Nissin brake calipers were all changes on the CBR1000RR-R in testing. However, their super concession was also visible with a new weld point around the swingarm pivot on the chassis allowing for more geometry settings, as well as an improved head-stock position, decreasing the rake of the bike. Overseeing all of this were HRC engineers Tomonori Araki and Yuki Mori, whilst HRC’s chief engineer from race operations, Masamune Ohigashi, was the big name in the garage. Honda are pulling out all the stops for 2023, with their seven-year win-drought hoping to be ended.
BMW’S LATEST EVOLUTION: “the expectation is that we will win”
In the ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team, there was an all-new look to the motorcycle as it donned a new aero package, with larger wings and brake covers seen for the first time in WorldSBK. The wings themselves were certainly bringing and obvious effect in the corners, with all BMW riders commenting on it. Along with that, there’s a switch to Brembo brakes from Nissin but the bigger talking point is that BMW won’t have a super concession in 2023, as they brought a new homologation. Marc Bongers, BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director, explained the situation: "The super concession within the regulations, they are actually deleted when you bring a new homologation. So, we are not entitled anymore for the 2023 season to use super concessions. But what we had in terms of super concessions have been integrated into the 2023 base bike." However, despite this, Bongers was confident of the manufacturer’s hopes this year: “In the third year of the M 1000 RR, the expectation is that we will win.”
FAST ROOKIES IN TESTING: Petrucci, Aegerter and Gardner are on the pace
Six rookies will make their presence felt on the WorldSBK grid in 2023 and there are already plenty of reasons to believe that they’ll be in the fight from the start. Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) was in great form at Jerez on the older version of the Ducati Panigale V4 R and was inside the top six, although he struggled to find a good base setting for the new bike at Portimao. For Aegerter, he too was strong at Jerez and top Independent rider on day two, but Portimao’s extreme layout took some getting used to for him. Remy Gardner was solid across both tests and on the second day of each one, grew in confidence and stature.
Elsewhere, Lorenzo Baldassarri’s “shakedown” style test at Jerez was positive, whilst at Portimao he continued developing. Bradley Ray’s highly-anticipated maiden WorldSBK campaign is underway; the British youngster and reigning BSB champion went over a second quicker on day two at Portimao in comparison to day one, and was just 1.6s off the official lap record; not bad after just 74 laps at Portimao. Eric Granado (MIE Racing Honda Team) had a tricky time of things with two mechanical problems hurting progress in Portugal.
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