#AUSWorldSBK Day 1 roundup – World Superbike
Sunny skies greeted the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship for their first day of action at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia, for the season-opening Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round. A mighty start to the season saw more domination from Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) as he eased clear by nearly half a second over his rivals.
Whilst there was a raft of changes up and down the order, there was one constant at the head of the field: Ducati. Alvaro Bautista continued to be in a class of his own with a half a second as an advantage over his nearest rivals. Setting more laps than anyone else in the entire week of Phillip Island track action, Bautista has been able to set outright lap times as well as consistent pace, making him one of the favourites for the remainder of the weekend, hoping to add to his tally of five Phillip Island race wins. Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi was second in FP2 and fourth overall on the combined classification, but he did have a technical problem with ten minutes to go at the end of pitlane.
Leading Yamaha’s charge once again was Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK), who continues to shine as he goes for gold in his third season in the team. Locatelli’s day was almost perfect, but he suffered a tumble at Turn 10 in the closing stages, but was able to get up and walk away without issue. His teammate, 2021 World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu, struggled in the afternoon and couldn’t crack the top ten in what is turning out to be a bit of a bogey circuit for the Turkish star. Returning to the #54 and finishing in tenth overall, it’s not been an easy start for Razgatlioglu, who was the last Yamaha in FP2.
Third place honours belonged to Honda and Iker Lecuona (Team HRC), with the Spaniard relying on his morning time but nonetheless settled in well in his first competitive weekend at Phillip Island in World Superbike. The Honda star, who stated that he wasn’t sure whether or not the package is ready to race on Thursday, looked good in the afternoon too and although he couldn’t replicate his morning pace which was marred by a late crash, he was still competitive. Teammate Xavi Vierge wasn’t enjoying it as much, rooted to outside the top ten in both sessions and only 16th on the combined times.
It was a tricky day for Kawasaki too, who lost valuable running with Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) at the start of FP2. With work being done frantically on the front of the bike, Rea returned to the circuit and whilst he improved his session time, it wasn’t enough to improve on from the morning, staying fifth. However, perhaps the bigger concern was that at the time the race is going to be run, Rea was 14th. Teammate Alex Lowes was eighth on the combined times but faster than his teammate in the afternoon.
At the factory BMW team, it started with complications for Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), who lost the majority of the session due to a technical problem. The British rider returned to track action with just over seven minutes to go and finished FP2 in 18th and as last BMW, whilst he was 15th on the combined timesheets. For teammate Michael van der Mark, he suffered a crash in FP1 but rallied to put in the sixth-fastest time of the day, making sure all five manufacturers were represented in the top six.
It was a day of shining for the Independent riders, particularly in FP2. Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven), whilst finishing seventh and best Independent overall, was third and best Independent in FP2 as well. He got the better of fastest rookie of the day Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team), with the #9 ninth on the combined but fourth in FP2, in what was a Ducati 1-2-3-4. Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) was consistent on his first day, finishing 11th overall and taking tenth in FP2, working on race pace. His teammate, Dominique Aegerter, was smoking – quite literally – his way to good lap times in FP2 as he was sixth but 13th overall, one place ahead of Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) at the end of the day, with ‘Iron Balda’ 11th in FP2. Making a late bid to move up the order, Garrett Gerloff completed his first day of 2023 in 12th overall but P5 in FP2.
Elsewhere in the field, Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) continued to figure out the Ducati Panigale V4 R in 2023 trim and was 17th at the end of the day, one place ahead of Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW), with the Frenchman struggling to get the feeling with his M 1000 RR. Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) got the better of Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) for P19 and P20 respectively, whilst Hafizh Syahrin (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) finished ahead of teammate Eric Granado, the latter of which had a crash at Turn 10.