PREVIEW: Big changes come to WorldSSP, but who will seize the initiative in Australia?

Wednesday, 21 February 2024 04:21 GMT

Testing is in the books and now all eyes are on racing as Phillip Island hosts the opening round of the season…

The start of the 2024 FIM Supersport World Championship is just around the corner. The roar of the engines will reverberate around the legendary Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit as 27 riders fight it out for glory at the Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round. There have been some huge changes to the grid, but everyone has had a chance to prepare for the round thanks to a one-day test that took place at the venue on Monday.

WHAT DID THE TEST TELL US? Montella quick, Caricasulo strong, Manzi rapid

The Official Test in Australia was the only time to compare rivals to each other with interesting results, albeit with the usual testing caveats about programmes being unknown. Yari Montella (Barni Spark Racing Team) was fastest as he went under the lap record, but he was closely followed by Federico Caricasulo (Motozoo ME AIR Racing) and Stefano Manzi (Pata Yamaha Ten Kate Racing). Montella and Manzi perhaps have a slight advantage over ‘Carica’, having raced at Phillip Island on their machines last year, while Caricasulo is still adapting to the F3 800 RR machine following Motozoo Racing’s decision to switch from Kawasaki to MV Agusta. Montella won at the circuit in 2022 for Kawasaki, whereas Manzi is one of the favourites; can either live up to the billing?

A WEEKEND OF NOVELTIES: some big changes on the grid…

Adrian Huertas ( Racing WorldSSP Team) will race as a Ducati rider for the first time on the back of a strong test day on Monday, as he took P4 despite a crash. He said a podium was his goal but can he replicate Nicolo Bulega’s success from last year Down Under? Glenn van Straalen (Pata Yamaha Ten Kate Racing) has made the switch to the Dutch team and will make his debut with them in Australia as he looks to make a step forward, racing alongside Manzi. There’s a new Triumph team on the grid as WRP-RT Motorsport by SKM-Triumph make their debut with Jorge Navarro and John McPhee, while Tom Booth-Amos will compete with PTR Triumph for the first time, alongside Ondrej Vostatek who stays with the team. Not only are there rider line-up changes, but the Australian Round will feature the debut of a Friday Tissot Superpole session and just one Free Practice outing, providing an extra challenge for the field. The pace in testing was record-breaking partially thanks to a new asphalt, so will we see a new lap record set?

BIG NAMES RETURN, OTHERS MOVE: lots of riders on the move…

2017 Champion Lucas Mahias returns to WorldSSP on a full-time basis with GMT94 Yamaha, linking up with the manufacturer he won the title with seven years ago. A winner at Phillip Island in 2018 with the Japanese brand, can the 34-year-old replicate that success in 2024? After a challenging season in WorldSBK, Lorenzo Baldassarri returns to WorldSSP but this time with the ORELAC Racing VerdNatura squad. A podium in 2022 at the Australian circuit came in Race 1 and ‘Balda’ will be hoping to kickstart his second campaign in the Championship in the same fashion. Niki Tuuli (EAB Racing Team) will get his first race on the Panigale V2 under his belt as EAB Racing swap Yamaha for Ducati, while Valentin Debise (Evan Bros. WorldSSP Yamaha) and Hikari Okubo (Vince64 Racing Team by Puccetti) both return; the latter for the first time since 2021. Marcel Brenner has impressed at times during his WorldSSP campaign and is back for 2024, linking up with VIAMO Racing by MTM as they replace the Ducati-bound Huertas with the Swiss rider.

…BUT SOME THINGS STAY THE SAME: Oncu back to his best, MV Agustas looking to build…

Can Oncu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) missed a lot of 2023 through injury but a podium at Jerez to end the season, plus surgery in the winter, leaves him hopefully in good stead for 2024. With some upgrades to his ZX-6R for this season, the Turkish star will be aiming to repeat his podium success from 2022 and 2023 in Australia. Sticking with the Turkish contingent, Bahattin Sofuoglu (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) is back for his third year in WorldSSP and aiming to build on his race-winning 2023 campaign while teammate Marcel Schroetter goes in search of a first one. Home hero Oli Bayliss is back with the D34G Racing WorldSSP Team and he will be hoping to secure a maiden WorldSSP podium on home soil, with Bayliss always strong at Phillip Island. Anupab Sarmoon returns for a second season with the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team, this time joined by Krittapat Keankum, while Yeray Ruiz secures a maiden full campaign with VFT Racing Yamaha.

ROOKIES SET FOR DEBUT: Antonelli leads 2024’s rookie class

Niccolo Antonelli (Ecosantagata Althea Racing) will make his WorldSSP debut in Australia after a podium-scoring campaign in the FIM Moto2™ European Championship. He was due to make his debut alongside Piotr Biesiekirski, but the Pole had a crash in testing at Turn 2 and was ruled out of action due to a concussion and facial trauma. The PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda team will field two rookies in Kaito Toba and Khairul Idham Ben Pawi, while Tom Toparis (Stop & Seal Racing) makes a wildcard appearance for the first time since 2019; on that occasion, he finished 11th at Phillip Island.

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