Round 1, Phillip Island – Preview
The 2015 eni FIM Superbike World Championship is less than a week away from its first showing and the riders are already in Australia to prepare for the opening round, which will be preceded by a two-day official test starting next Monday.
This year’s edition of the Australian round, sponsored by leading insurance company Swann, will be the 25th in the history of the series, an all-time record in terms of most World Superbike events staged by a single circuit. The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit made its debut on the World Superbike calendar back in 1990 and, after a brief absence in 1993, has been hosting a round of the championship ever since. From 2010 onwards the Victorian venue has hosted the opening event of the season.
As well as being the fastest on the calendar – with a current fastest average speed for the series of 177.720 km/h – and a favourite for riders and fans alike, Phillip Island is generally regarded as one of most spectacular race tracks in the world. Located on the southerly most tip of Australia amid wonderful coastal scenery, the 4.445 km (2.762 mi) track features seven left-hand corners and five right-handers and many elevation changes up to almost 60 m.
The New Year comes with several changes on different levels. Seldom has the series has witnessed as many changes in the rider line-up as new partnerships, welcome returns and new arrivals have shaped the 2015 grid in a new way compared to the one seen last year.
With Reigning World Champion Sylvain Guintoli joining the Pata Honda squad with 2014 World Supersport title winner Michael van der Mark, former team members Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam have gone for a change and entered the Kawasaki Racing Team and the Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils outfits, respectively. Both Britons will be in good company, as Rea will have 2013 WorldSBK Champion Tom Sykes as team-mate while Haslam will share his new garage with former Moto2 Grand Prix winner Jordi Torres from Spain.
Catalan Torres makes up just a quarter of the Spanish rookie contingent that will try to follow in the footsteps of Carlos Checa. The 125cc World Champion of 2011, Nicolas ‘Nico’ Terol (Althea Racing Ducati), Santiago Barragan (Team Grillini SBK) and Roman Ramos (Team Go Eleven Kawasaki) are eager to test their skills aboard superbike machines.
Former Grand Prix ace Randy de Puniet from France will be on double duty this year, tackling his maiden World Superbike season with the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team alongside 2013 British Superbike Champion Alex Lowes while retaining his job as Suzuki MotoGP test rider.
The newly-named Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team has kept things unchanged on the line-up side, with Chaz Davies and especially Davide Giugliano showing great speed aboard their Panigale R machines during the last European test of the pre-season at Jerez back in January. The latter is now looking to step atop the podium for the first time in his World Superbike career, an eventuality that could coincide with Italy’s 100th race win since the WorldSBK was inaugurated in 1988.
Elsewhere, there are welcome returns to the championship. Argentina’s Leandro ‘Tati’ Mercado steps up with the Barni Racing Team with which he claimed last year’s FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, while Matteo Baiocco partners the aforementioned Terol at Althea Racing. In single-rider teams are the likes of David Salom (Team Pedercini), Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) and Sylvain Barrier (BMW Motorrad Italia SBK Team), while the Hero EBR (Pegram Racing) outfit moves into its second season with Team Manager-rider Larry Pegram and Niccolò Canepa.
2015 also marks significant revisions to the technical regulations, not least in the areas of electronics (with a new price cap) and engines (with less tuning permitted for pistons and conrods especially). Not only are costs hoped to fall as a result, but the new rules are set to make the championship more attractive to privateer teams and are expected to result in a generally more competitive grid from the start of the new campaign.