Alex Lowes tops Friday running ahead of Bulega, rookies strong as heavyweights struggle

Friday, 23 February 2024 06:19 GMT

The #22 was right on the pace on day one and with a new lap record, could be a dark horse for pole or perhaps more throughout the rest of the weekend

The 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is, wait for it… UNDERWAY! Day one of the season is in the books from Phillip Island and after a lot of time battling weather and even wildlife – with Cape Barren geese causing a short red flag – we got our first look at the stars of 2024 in anger. With lap times already on lap record pace from the start, it was Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) who shone at the front to end day one as the rider to beat.

ALTERNATIVE STARS AT THE FRONT: Lowes, Bulega and Locatelli, Bautista and Rea outside top 10

In green, Alex Lowes rocketed to lead the way in the closing stages, setting a new lap record – although it is likely to be beaten further if weather permits. Lowes was a race winner for Kawasaki at Phillip Island in 2020 and with upgrades to performance coming into the year, the combination of the #22, new crew chief Pere Riba and Kawasaki’s gains seems to be working well for the #22. For new teammate Axel Bassani, the Italian had some flashes during FP2 but only finished in 15th overall.

A revelation during testing, P2 went to Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati) as he got down to business straight away and was competitive from the start and in the top three. Bulega, a double winner in World Supersport at the circuit last year, has been the fastest of the two factory Ducatis since stepping on the bike, with reigning WorldSBK Champion Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) still getting up to speed after an injury-hit pre-season. All was not well with the #1, who was seen shaking his head and gesticulating when returning to pitlane, clearly experiencing problems. He was soon back out and inside the top ten before finishing 12th overall but was fastest in the final section.

First out on track, Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) did one circulation before coming back in, reporting a vibrating issues. He was soon back out with less than ten minutes to go, getting crucial laps in after rain limited running earlier in FP1. Not quite on the pace that he’d have liked and had enjoyed back at Jerez during testing, there’re still refinements to be done for the #65 and collaboration with Yamaha, only 16th. However, teammate Andrea Locatelli set a new lap record in FP1 and was inside the top three for the majority of FP2’s running. Working with crew chief Tom O’Kane in a weekend for the first time, ‘Loka’, who always goes well at Phillip Island, is in the mix for strong results, finishing third on Friday.

INDEPENDENT CONTENDERS: Petrucci majestic for P4, Sam Lowes and Iannone impress

In terms of Independent contenders, there were no shortages of places to look, with Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) the best-placed of them in third in FP2, a mega strong start for the #9. He was fourth overall, whilst Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) snatched a strong fifth place in FP2 to put him sixth overall, despite a big save at Turn 2. Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) was P7 overall, just ahead of Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team Motocorsa Racing).

RAZGATLIOGLU VS VAN DER MARK: the #60 causes a stir

One of the biggest stories coming into 2024, Toprak Razgatlioglu’s (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) journey with BMW officially fired up and after a quiet FP1, he was inside the top five in FP2 for most of the closing stages. He got to have a look at some of his main rivals in FP1, following Andera Iannone (Team GoEleven) and Bautista in what could be a taste of 2024. Toprak towed teammate Michael van der Mark round in the closing stages as both worked together with the Dutchman able to feature inside the top four. The #60 is 1-0 up on his Turkish teammate, finishing ahead on the combined times; fifth for van der Mark, tenth for Toprak, who was just behind home-hero Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) in P9.

OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN: Oettl in touch, Honda struggle

Less than half a second from Alex Lowes’ top time was Philipp Oettl (GMT94 Yamaha) but he was 11th, impressive times for the #5 despite the position maybe not reflecting it. Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) was on the front row in third last year but just 13th on Friday, ahead of the first Honda of Xavi Vierge (Team HRC), who will be flying the flag for the brand this weekend as, whilst he’s participating, Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) is injured and finished 20th overall. Brad Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) was 17th, ahead of Bonovo Action BMW duo Scott Redding and Garrett Gerloff. Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), Tarran Mackenzie (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda) and his teammate Adam Norrodin completed the order.

Top six combined after Friday in WorldSBK at Phillip Island, full results here:

1. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) 1’29.042s

2. Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati) +0.059s

3. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha)

4. Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) +0.195s

5. Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) +0.222s

6. Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) +0.250s

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