DAY 1 REPORT: HE’S DONE IT AGAIN – Bulega tops the timesheets at Portimao WorldSBK test

Monday, 29 January 2024 17:42 GMT

The reigning WorldSSP Champion is proving to be something of a revelation as once again, the #11 was next to P1

Jonathan Rea (Pata Yamaha Prometeon) switching to Yamaha, Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) joining BMW, Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) returning to action or even Axel Bassani (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) getting a dream factory ride with KRT. We weren’t short on stories ahead of the season starting and the 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has another headline – Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati). Over 80 laps at Portimao, the #11 was on top again as day one concluded.

MAN ON A MISSION: full gas for ‘Bulegas’

He was one of the fastest at Jerez at the end of 2023, he topped last week’s test at the same circuit (with a new unofficial lap record) and now, he’s hit top spot again. Nicolo Bulega has been fast from the start of his WorldSBK career and once again, outshone reigning World Champion teammate Alvaro Bautista. Bulega worked on getting familiar with the bike at a different circuit and seemingly it went well, with him being the only rider to set a 1’39 – a 1’39.932. Teammate Bautista was three quarters of a second off the pace, albeit further up the order than Jerez (P8 compared to P16), the #1 is seemingly still struggling with his neck injury as well as adapting to the 5-6kg that have been put on his Ducati Panigale V4 R to meet the new weight rules.

BMW SHINE: Razgatlioglu and van der Mark on the pace

P2 belonged to Toprak Razgatlioglu, who confirmed that he had new parts – although what remains to be confirmed. One thing we do know is that BMW on a whole have a new swingarm, updated engine specs, revised aero packages and ever-improving electronics. Speaking at Jerez, the plan was to continue testing the same parts, making sure the findings are consistent from one track to another. The #54 continued to try and find a solution for rear grip and is 95% happy with the braking of the bike. Teammate Michael van der Mark had a solid day one in P7, with the objective of the day refining the base bike as well as trialling different swingarms, with the new one heading out at the end of the day. Elsewhere for BMW, Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) also had a new swingarm and setting options to work through. He was 12th overall, with teammate Scott Redding 15th.

YAMAHA’S LATE CHARGE: Rea and Locatelli join Gardner to complete the top five

On his penultimate flying lap, Jonathan Rea flew into P3 to slash the gap to Bulega to just 0.148s. Ahead of him on the track, teammate Andrea Locatelli finished P5. Rea’s mission to get more comfortable on the bike continued, with it being the first track at which he tries out the R1 besides Jerez. As for ‘Loka’, he confirmed ahead of testing that he’s now debriefing in English with crew chief Tom O’Kane, instead of Italian with ex-crew chief Andrew Pitt. Team boss Paul Denning confirmed that the team had various small new items but they were all inside. Between the two factory Yamahas, Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) was fourth and once again having a strong test. His teammate Dominique Aegerter isn’t present as he’s still unwell.

OUTSIDE THE TOP 5: stories galore as Sam Lowes rockets to sixth, Honda improve

Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) was sixth and looking strong as he got down to business at a new circuit. With the idea to get used to Portimao on a Superbike, he also had seat position updates and fuel tank shape, purely for ergonomics. On day two, he may have new fork internals from Ohlins. At Honda, one side of the garage can be happy with work done as Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) finished ninth as the team continue to get acclimatised to the new CBR1000RR-R. One place behind him and the last rider within one second of Bulega’s time, Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK). He tried a new swingarm, as the hunt for more rear grip and better acceleration continues, although a tech problem slowed his progress. Just behind him, Bradley Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) was back in action after missing Jerez and started on the 2023-spec Yamaha.

FURTHER DOWN FIELD: Lecuona struggles, Rinaldi, Redding, Petrucci, Iannone and Bassani behind

Less than three tenths covered Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) in 13th to Axel Bassani (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) in 18th. Whilst better than at Jerez, the #7 Honda of Lecuona still seemingly needs time to get up to speed and find a solid base for the new bike, whilst Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Motocorsa Racing) was in 14th on his second day of 2024 testing. Redding was 15th but expect more from the Brit on day two, whilst Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) is back at a circuit he struggled at during testing in 2023. ‘Petrux’ finished 1.239s adrift of Bulega, despite new seat and swingarm parts, as he seeks a solution for his new-tyre struggles. Spending the day understanding the rollercoaster of Portimao, Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) bedded in, with bike geometry and setting refinement to come. Axel Bassani set his fastest lap on his final flying lap and only used one bike throughout the day, as he spent time working on riding style and position on the bike.

ROUNDING UP: the rest of the order, Huertas tops WorldSSP

Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) continued his track time with the factory-spec ZX-10RR, just 1.571s off Bulega, with Philipp Oettl (GMT94 Yamaha) behind him – expect Oettl to be faster on day two, repeating the trend from Jerez. BMW’s test team of Sylvain Guintoli and Bradley Smith were tied together in the order, although the 2014 WorldSBK Champion nearly eight tenths quicker than his British counterpart. Florian Marino (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) continued his test-rider duties, whilst the PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team of Tarran Mackenzie and Adam Norrodin missed most of the action on day one, with just two laps being set my Mackenzie and not on the pace. In WorldSSP, Adrian Huertas ( Racing WorldSSP Team) was fastest with a 1’43.806, whilst Niccolo Antonelli (Althea Racing Team) and teammate Piotr Biesiekirski were behind.

Top ten at the end of Day 1 at Portimao, full results here (lap times combined below):

1 Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati) 1’39.913 – 82 laps

2. Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) +0.094s – 73 laps

3. Jonathan Rea (Pata Yamaha Prometeon) +0.148s – 74 laps

4. Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) +0.355s – 89 laps

5. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon) +0.357s – 78 laps

6. Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) +0.550s – 74 laps

7. Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) +0.723 – 82 laps

8. Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) +0.760 – 86 laps

9. Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) +0.816s – 89 laps

10. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.866s – 65 laps

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