The first day of testing for some new riders in the World Superbike paddock, and some new World Superbike machines, took place at Portimao in Portugal today as Ben Spies and Tom Sykes appeared in Yamaha colors for the first time, and Max Biaggi went back under the Aprilia awning.
A host of other riders took their place on track in largely new teams, but the big news on day one was the sheer pace of Ben Spies. He, like teammate Sykes, rode the 2009 machine and the 2008 Yamaha, but was not allowed to speak about his 2009 R1 experiences.
On the 2008 bike, still largely set up for the much shorter Haga, Spies did a 1:44.0, almost on the best pace from race weekend on a track that was reported to be not quite as grippy as race day.
Of his first impressions on the 2008 Yamaha, the AMA Superbike Champion said: “The most important thing for me to do was to learn the Pirellis and Öhlins suspension, and it was my first day for a new bike, new track, new team. The track was awesome, a real fun place to ride, even though we lost some of the morning because the track was damp and there was water running across it. After lunch we got going and it answered a little question inside the mind a bit, and I was happy with that. Tom [Sykes] got going really well too and he is really good to work with. We tried to work through a lot together. The crew, the team, everything is just a great package and I am looking forward to next year.”
Sykes set a 1:46.0 on the 2008 bike when the track conditions were not at their very best and as the day went on the track temperatures plummeted, the wind got up and rain threatened, but never quite arrived.
“The 2008 bike was a little bit different and we got the bike to how I wanted it and then put it to one side. I’m happy how quickly I got to grips with the 2008 bike, and if I had jumped out again after lunch when the track was at its best I could have put my head down and been happy with the outcome.” Sykes joked. “It’s a new experience for all of us, and in an all-Italian team my Yorkshire accent certainly doesn’t help, and even the Americans struggle with me!”
The tiny and densely packed Aprilia RSV4 was still working out some teething problems under the expert hands of Biaggi, making his 1:45.4 a very decent mark.
“I am very impressed by Spies’ time, because he has never tested here before,” Biaggi said. “For us it is a completely different situation, because our bike is fully new. In Valencia we made a few laps just to check the bike and we fixed two or three of the problems we had here and we went faster. In any case, we have a lot of work to do, but tomorrow we will try to reach our real level. For us, I am satisfied and I have the right feeling with this bike and I am very confident to be fast.”
New Sterilgarda Ducati riders Shane Byrne and Alessandro Polita looked purposeful all day, particularly Byrne, as he set a 1:45 flat.
Gregorio Lavilla rode in his new Alto Evolution Honda colors, Leon Haslam and Robby Rolfo posted times for the Stiggy Honda Team, albeit setting out on track later in the day than most.
Nakasuga Katsuyuki, a Yamaha test rider, was also on track, working out of a busy Spies/Sykes garage.
In the World Supersport class, Eugene Laverty piloted his Parkalgar Honda for the first time. Cal Crutchlow’s first ride on the Yamaha World Supersport machine was a steady one at some points, as he got used to the lack of power from a 600cc Supersport machine, instead of a 1000cc Superbike. Fabien Foret was the only rider to be out on the same bike, for the same team, as he rode for in 2008.
Ex GP-rider Anthony West and World Superbike regular Gianluca Vizziello lapped on their Stiggy Honda Supersport machines, just to get their eye for day two.