Photography By: Gold & Goose
PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, FEB 19 - It's a coin toss as to who was more surprised at the sudden burst of speed that took Carlos Checa (Ducati Alstare) to the best lap time of the pre-race official tests at Phillip Island, Carlos himself or almost everybody else.
In the hospital with a blocked gut a few days before, his teammate Ayrton Badovini in another hospital bed after crashing his 1199 Panigale to destruction in a private test, added to lap times all through winter testing sessions which were nothing to get excited about, it was looking bleak for the early rounds, at least. But maybe that all came to an end on February 19.
After one and a half dry days at Phillip Island, Checa left with a lap time better than the previous lap record, and not that far from the absolute record from official qualifying, set usually when the stickier tires are broken out for the lucky few Superpole qualifiers.
Checa's' 1:31.059 was almost 0.2 sec. better than that put in by the second quickest man, Marco Melandri (BMW Motorrad Italia GoldBet SBK), who was troubled by his long-term shoulder injury throughout these tests.
Third was a rider lucky not be injured in a huge crash at the fast Turn 11 in private tests before the official ones, Leon Camier (Fixi Crescent Suzuki), who destroyed his Suzuki GSX-R1000 at the end of last week's test.
Checa was genuinely surprised to do quite so well after his horribly disturbed winter test program, especially as his own early pronouncements on their early season chances started out in a worried tone and ended up in an air of resigned stoicism. Until today, that is, when gloom went to boom after only a few practice sessions.
Said Carlos, "I was quite surprised because I was very negative at the beginning, because the bike was so hard to ride, but after a few pit lane exits and changes, then the feeling arrived and I was able to carry speed in different areas of this track.
"I know it is very important. We focused very well on the important points and set up the bike after all that job of integration with the team, and the bike especially. The team worked very well to understand and to find a solution and that gave me enough confidence. Today, with the cooler condition the tires were destroyed after a few laps, because it was cool. Pirelli brought tires that work in high temperatures not in cold, but for me it would be better if it is colder. Perfect conditions to ride but the tires are not working in these conditions. Pirelli do not have (the right tires) right now, but maybe they will bring some. I would imagine yes.
"There have been some changes to the bike since the Jerez tests, a little bit. Geometry and especially the suspension. Here at Phillip Island is always a special track for settings, but for sure this is our base. For sure we do not have another, because in Jerez we do not have the lap time and this is the first time we are in the lap time, so for me this will be the base, and what we have arrived for; to find some information, get the base and get some base settings and work from there. But we have found it earlier than I expected. It was a combination of many things in electronics, with the engine brakes, the power delivery, although maybe not the power delivery, because it is quite full everywhere.
"We do not have so much acceleration, especially torque; we lose a little bit. Top speed is a little bit better than last year. Front suspension a lot of changes, a little bit of geometry, and rear shock and link, all combinations we have moved a little bit in different areas. Already in Jerez we made some steps and I like it better. I have the feeling on how to go fast here and I want to find that feeling, that level of confidence, that can give me speed in different sections. I have in my mind a clear reference here and with the set-up and this bike we will try to find it."
Another, this time properly injured, warrior was fourth fastest in combined times after four sessions, Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team). His broken left radius (near the wrist joint) was painful but not that much of a hindrance for a few laps, as were his recently injured ribs.
Michel Fabrizio's Red Devils Roma Aprilia secured him top RSV4 Factory spot, with Aprilia Racing duo Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli only eighth and tenth respectively.
Despite several issues and a lost second day for Haslam, and a still imperfect new electronics suite for Jonathan Rea, the Pata Honda World Superbike boys made their presence felt, with Rea sixth and Haslam seventh.
Davide Giuglianio's Althea Racing Aprilia lease-bike was ninth overall after two days.
Rookie WSB rider Jules Cluzel (Fixi Crescent Suzuki) went to 11th place, one up on new BMW man Chaz Davies. All 11 top men were within a second of each other.
A local wild card, Glen Allerton (Next Gen BMW) was 13th and only just over a second off Checa. Another wild card, Jamie Stauffer (Honda Australia), was 14th.
A restrained Loris Baz, who had suffered a massive fall in the private tests a few days before the official versions, and only got himself into the swing in the final half hour of day two, was 15th.
The walking wounded included day one crasher Max Neukirchner (MR Ducati) and Ayrton Badovini (Ducati Alstare), the latter of whom only did eight laps after his big fall. Neukirchner went back to the hospital for a second check, this time with an MRI element in it, after suffering great pain near an old vertebrae injury.
There were 21 riders on deck when the first official SBK tests of 2013 were started, but a few were worse for mechanical or bone wear and tear, some even before it started.
The overall theme of this test was, of course, the same one as always; never predict the unpredictable, because World Superbike racing is always something more difficult to define than the unpredictable world can convey.
Next up is real racing. Few people gave Checa a prayer of doing well at Sunday's round one on the new Ducati, but at the pre-match weigh-in, those clever Ducati people have found a way to make it faster than anything else. Already, given that even the innermost circles of Ducati people felt the new bike would take some time to match its rivals, it has done so in its first time of asking, even if the circumstances were a bit odd for some of their competitors.
Phillip Island World Superbike Test Times:
1. Carlos Checa (Ducati) 1:31.059
2. Marco Melandri (BMW) 1:31.237
3. Leon Camier (Suzuki) 1:31.243
4. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) 1:31.261
5. Michel Fabrizio (Aprilia) 1:31.350
6. Jonathan Rea (Honda) 1:31.356
7. Leon Haslam (Honda) 1:31.396
8. Eugene Laverty (Aprilia) 1:31.452
9. Davide Giugliano (Aprilia) 1:31.640
10. Sylvain Guintoli (Aprilia) 1:31.658