The riders parade with some interesting new faces, including on the far right Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven Ducati) and on the far left with the 11 Nicolo Bulega ( Ducati). There are also some spectacular ones with new colors and therefore a new team and motorcycle, such as Toprak (54, from Yamaha to BMW), Jonathan Rea (65, from Kawasaki to Yamaha) and Axel Bassani (47, from Motocorsa Racing Ducati to the KRT Kawasaki factory team). In the middle of the picture with the 1 is the reigning world champion Alvaro Bautista ( Ducati).

Test gallop for the first round of WorldSBK on Phillip Island (Australia)

On the Monday and Tuesday before the race weekend, it became clear that the new asphalt was literally eating away at the tires, meaning that most of the drivers had serious problems with the rubber after about 12 to 13 laps. Between the preliminary tests of the Grand Bridge Brewery Australian round and the Friday training sessions, the race management decided that the WSBK and WSSP races would be converted into flag to flag races. Instead of going the full distance, there will be mandatory pit stops with tire changes. For the safety of all competitors, the rear tires should not be used for longer than 11 laps in WorldSBK and no longer than 10 laps in WorldSSP. In addition, the race distance for Superbike races 1 and 2 was shortened to 20 laps and each driver in both classes was allocated two additional sets of tires. This briefly turned the testing strategies of most teams upside down, but since the rule applies to everyone, there were no objections to it from the pilots. The only thing you could put a question mark on is sporty, because the driver no longer has all the factors under his control and can therefore become the victim of bad luck or clumsiness on the part of his mechanics.

Alvaro Bautista ( Ducati), together with record world champion Jonathan Rea (Pata Yamaha), is one of the biggest question marks this time before Superpole and the first race on Saturday. Both reported concerns about the race weekend because their driving style was not compatible with this surface. However, since his WSBK debut in 2019, the Spaniard has been seen as someone who often just bluffs before things get serious and then strikes even more relentlessly.

The race track at Bass Strait – a jewel for fans and pilots

With 5 right-hand and 7 left-hand bends and the track length of 4.445 kilometres, which has remained unchanged since 1988, the Phillip Island GP Circuit is in the middle of the field in terms of track length. The course, located directly on the sea coast, is one of the few courses on the calendar that is run counterclockwise. The longest straight is start-finish at 835 meters. Tom Sykes’ absolute lap record on a BMW in the WSBK from 2020 was already beaten in the preliminary tests. With a time of 1:29.23 and an average speed of 179.334 km/h it is clear that Phillip Island is one of the fastest routes on the calendar. Thanks to the newly applied asphalt, BMW newcomer Toprak literally pulverized this time in the preliminary tests with 1’28.511, further proving that he must be counted among the favourites for victory. But you shouldn’t forget that last year the Ducati factory team with Bautista and Michael Ruben Rinaldi drove away from the competition. And just because the reigning world champion has to pack 6 kg more on his motorcycle this time, this doesn’t change the additional power of his Panigale V4R, which can still achieve a significantly higher maximum speed. This means that Alvaro and his new teammate Nicolo Bulega have drastic advantages in acceleration and top speed.

Compared to the strongest competitors from previous years, Ducati still has a clear advantage with its MotoGP replica. In the opinion of many experts, the introduction of a minimum weight for the driver and machine will change very little. After a few rounds, we will know whether there will be a highly one-sided decision for victories for the third time in a row, as was the case in 2022 and 2023. In any case, for the neutral fans and the tension, it would be desirable that it doesn’t happen again.

Weather problems made it impossible to have a proper day of training

Strong winds and repeated rain made proper training difficult for both the Superbikes and the WorldSSP. For this reason, most pilots only completed a handful of laps in the first free practice session of WorldSBK before things started to dry out shortly before the end. The two Lowe twin brothers were particularly strong in FP1, whose best lap time was only beaten by Locatelli. Fourth fastest in the morning was local hero Gardner ahead of the Ducatis ahead of Iannone, Rinaldi, Bulega and Bautista. BMW newcomer Toprak, on the other hand, only managed the tenth-best time and his successor Johnny Rea at Pata Yamaha only managed the twelfth best time. However, the latter was hardly surprising given the botched start with a crash in the preliminary tests at the beginning of the week.

Bautista only in 8th place, Razgatlioglu with P10 and record world champion Rea only in twelfth place – such a picture has rarely or never been seen in recent years. Even in the afternoon, there shouldn’t be any significant improvement for the three most frequently mentioned favourites for this year’s title.

Problems for the “big three” in the second free practice session too

Few people had expected Alex Lowes on his Kawasaki ZX-10RR before the weekend, but the new team leader in the Greens factory team impressed after the morning and in the afternoon. In the end, the fast Englishman from Lincoln was a tiny 43 thousandths short of a historic first 1:28 – a record lap. Ahead of the Italians Bulega ( Ducati), Locatelli (Pata Yamaha) and Petrucci (Barni Ducati), the twin brother of newcomer Sam (sixth fastest on the ELF Marc VDS Ducati) still set a new lap record. Apart from Alex Lowes, Nicolo Bulega and Michael Van der Mark (BMW), no other works rider made it into the top nine, which would mean the first three rows after Superpole. To find Toprak only in 10th position, Bautista only twelfth and Rea only in P16, no one would have expected that in advance. Below are the combined results of an unlucky and astounding Friday.

Iker Lecuona from the Honda factory team will not be able to compete on the race weekend due to the shoulder injury he suffered during the preliminary tests. The brave Spaniard tried a few more laps on Friday, but the pain was simply too intense for a reasonably fast lap.
Our shot of the coastline directly below the racetrack, looking towards Bass Strait. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t always suitable for postcard shots, and this time the Friday training sessions had to suffer due to the changeable weather.

Conclusion after day one of the season opener

While the three most decorated participants all stumbled on Friday, the first two free practice sessions were dominated by a few established pilots and private riders. But riders like last year’s surprise Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha), who came third in Superpole, also fell short of expectations. Even Scott Redding (BMW), who was the only one on the podium after all three races four years ago, and his Bonovo Action teammate Garrett Gerloff had a terrible Friday with positions 18 and 19. The US boy had already had a lot of trouble in the preliminary tests at the beginning of the week, but on the other hand the Englishman was eighth best after Tuesday. But we expressly warn against premature conclusions after a sometimes confusing FP1 and 2. Far too often in the past, some of the best had only played their trump cards from Saturday morning in Superpole.

Anyone who calls Alex Lowes (Kawasaki ZX-10RR) the surprise first of Friday doesn’t have a good memory, even if this happens far too often even to so-called experts. In any case, we saw him win the second race on site in 2020 after coming second in the first race (he was fourth in the sprint race). With a total of 51 points, the fast Englishman left Australia as the World Championship leader.

Reasonable predictions for the races are almost impossible

We found the statement from veteran Danilo “Petrux” Petrucci particularly interesting after Friday. In the interview, the Italian sonny boy spoke very openly about his personal situation and also his assessments of the upcoming season. We therefore very much hope that the Italian from Terni is right, because in this case we could expect very varied races. Barni Ducat figurehead Petrux is convinced that there will be a lot of different faces on the podium in 2024 and that almost every driver on the starting grid is capable of doing so. After probably the most one-sided season in WSBK history, this would of course be an absolute stroke of luck for racing and the fans. Danilo also emphasized that this was the case, but pointed out how difficult it would make his task. What will now be important for him and everyone else is the Superpole, which will take place on Saturday morning, because this will determine the starting grid for the first two races. In any case, reasonable forecasts for qualifying and the races are currently almost impossible. In any case, it would be particularly good if at least three makes could fight for victory and private pilots were also involved. We won’t know more about this until after Saturday.

“Magic Michael” Van der Mark (BMW M-1000RR) once again clearly overshadowed his new teammate Toprak Razgatlioglu and was fourth fastest in FP2 and fifth best of the day, just 0.222 seconds behind the best time.

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© WorldSBK).