OUTSPOKEN AHEAD OF 2024 STARTING: "Winning is my dream… this is what I loved all my life"

Thursday, 22 February 2024 07:42 GMT

The talking is coming to an end, the visor is getting ready to be pulled down and the lights are set to go out for an epic 2024 season of WorldSBK

The 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is one of the most talked about campaigns in the history of the Championship; with fresh rookies, a massively different line-up and all the usual statements and claims, this season promises to be like no other. Ahead of the first round starting, we caught up with all of the heavyweights – old and new – to get their thoughts going into the weekend.

Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team): “Winning is my dream… when I think a lot, this doesn’t come true”

Readying for his first weekend with BMW, Toprak Razgatlioglu said: “I’m not feeling pressure but I feel excited because it’s my first round with BMW. It looks like we’re ready, but we’re not 100% because I’m still learning the bike and the electronics. The traction control is OK but we’re still working on engine braking. In the test, we made a good lap time and everyone is very happy but I’m just focusing on the race because when we finish on the podium, or maybe win, I’ll be happier. Tomorrow, we’ll try some different setups because we need to be stronger. The bike looks like it’s working here. It’s not an easy track, it’s not for my style, but we started the test very strong. This is motivation for me. The race looks like it’ll be fun because everyone will be watching a slightly different race as we have a flag-to-flag. I hope we don’t make a mistake and it looks like we’re fighting for the podium. Winning is my dream, but I don’t like to talk like this before the race. If I’m feeling good in the race, I’m fighting for the win. This is my target but I’m always dreaming of winning the first race. When I think a lot, this doesn’t come true.”

Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha): “The overall feeling is mixed… we need to improve”

In blue for the first time ever, Jonathan Rea’s Yamaha debut is nearing: “I’m feeling more or less OK, not 100% but I woke up yesterday morning feeling quite sorry for myself. Today was much better and I hope tomorrow we can make another step. We start tomorrow for real; I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment. It’ll be a nice moment to roll down pitlane for the first official session of 2024 and get stuck in. The overall feeling is mixed. I enjoy riding the bike and working with the team. I’ve been fast, but to be really, really fast, I’m still demanding some feeling. Track by track, we’re getting there. The new surface threw us a bit of a curveball, it’s a completely different feeling. It’s got a lot of grip, so that riding style that I normally use on the bike isn’t quite working here. Right now, no. I feel my ultimate pace hasn’t been so fast. Even my race rhythm is not fast, and we need to improve. I really enjoyed Jerez and Portimao, but we need to make a step here. Right now, winning a race here, is a dream. The reality is we have a lot of work to achieve that but we won’t give up.”

Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati): “Testing is testing, racing is racing”

A tricky pre-season, Alvaro Bautista has found form just in time: “After the last day of testing here at Phillip Island, I felt a bit better especially because my physical condition improved a lot from the test before. I’m quite happy because it was the first time in pre-season that I started to feel the bike more, work on the feeling and try to increase my performance. It’s been a tough winter. At home, I worked a lot to recover as soon as possible but it was really slow. I don’t have any expectations for this weekend. It’s the first round of the season. It’s a long Championship. It’s difficult because testing is testing, and racing is racing. This year’s grid is really competitive, there are a lot of very fast riders. Honestly, I wouldn’t bet on any rider because anything can happen! The Championship is long. We are at Round 1, a very strange one for everything; my condition, the new schedule… we will try to do our best here, get the maximum and then think about the next one.”

Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati): “I don’t have targets”

Fast in testing, reigning WorldSSP Champion Nicolo Bulega has been a revelation: “I’m feeling good. I’m happy and proud to be here with this team. I’m happy the tests are finished because I prefer races. It was a very good pre-season because the worst result was second. I think the last one here we did a couple of days ago was the best one for me because I was able to ride a lot with used tyres and I had very good pace. I’ve adapted to this bigger bike but nothing special, I just wanted to ride to understand it better. Alvaro missed some fast laps, but if you see his race pace, he’s always very good. I think he will be at the front. I don’t have targets. I’m enjoying riding this bike a lot. What I want to do is enjoy and stay towards the front if possible.”

Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven): “We want to try and fight with the best riders… this is what I loved for all of my life”

He’s back and ruffling feathers but can Andrea Iannone wow us all this weekend? “I don’t know what to expect because everything is new for me. I think that the format is totally different; I spoke with my team manager and he explained the rules, the way to start the Championship and everything. In any case, I’m very excited. It’s a strange feeling to be back but I’m happy to be back with all of you, the riders etc. This is what I loved for all my life. The pre-season isn’t bad; I’m a little bit surprised because the speed in general is high. We weren’t sure at the beginning because I didn’t ride the race bike but in any case, it was a good pre-season for us. We want to try and fight with the best riders but the top ten positions are our target. Step-by-step, we need to improve and in each race, we’ll improve.”

Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team): “I feel like I’m a little bit more competitive than what I anticipated”

Is there a 3D photocopier? Alex Lowes has someone who is identical-looking to him on the grid this year – his twin brother, Sam: “It’s been a nice pre-season. I’m excited and proud of this moment. It’s a big thing for me to get here. I had a lot to learn and still do, coming into this weekend with the format, the setting of the bike and how to race the bike, and it’s going to be a different race here with many things to learn but I’m positive. I feel like I’m a little bit more competitive than what I anticipated. I think we can look at this season in a good way. I want to get into the season before making a big statement about my goals, but I feel like I can be competitive and fight for the top five and the podium and then see where we are.”

Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK): “It’s all about the last 5-7 laps”

Alex Lowes himself is excited to get going: “It’s been interesting to work with Pere Riba; obviously, Jonathan moved on at the end of last year, so the dynamics have changed in the team a little bit. The winter was spent trying to get to know each other and trying to get more out of myself and the package. Any teammate you’ve got, you try to work together to give the team the best chance of being competitive. Axel’s come in from some fantastic years on the Ducati; he finished sixth in the world last year, so he did a better job than me! He’s trying to prove himself in a factory team and brings the knowledge from the Ducati. He’s helping as well; he’s been a great teammate. He believes in himself a lot and it’s going to be a nice dynamic in the team. It’s all about the last 5, 6, 7 laps. The guys that look after the tyres the best get the best results. We spent 90% of the test focusing on used tyres and trying to make the tyres last on the new surface.”

Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team): “Hopefully, we can put on a good show for the home fans”

Home-hero Remy Gardner has high hopes for a strong result this weekend: “I’m excited and looking forward to it; with one year of experience, it’s nice to not be looking for the way to ride a bike. Everything is a bit more natural now. This is a nice place to start with the home race; I love the track and hopefully, we can put on a good show for the home fans. Pre-season was pretty good and I think we’re ready to go racing. A podium this year would be nice.”

Iker Lecuona (Team HRC): “We still don’t understand the bike”

Still not confirmed as riding in the full weekend, it could be a tricky round for Iker Lecuona: “I had a big highside at Turn 11 and dislocated my shoulder; I need to say that until last night, I can’t ride the bike because it’s too much. However, when I woke up, I felt quite good. I spoke with Jose and did a check with the medical team here. I am ‘fit’ for tomorrow morning but this track is hard on the shoulders with the speed, the wind and the bumps. With the Honda, we have to work more than others on other bikes. I’ll try and then make a decision if I continue. I haven’t had time to try the bike in Australia properly but honestly, from what we expected, three or four out of ten, quite low… it’s a new bike and we need a lot of time to understand and take the most from it. We still don’t understand it and we still don’t have a good pace. The target is to find it here in Australia.”

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