19 February 2019
Ducati’s new factory rider Alvaro Bautista has signalled his intentions for this weekend’s (Feb 22-24) round one of the 2019 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Superbike Championship after coming up trumps in a two-day test session at Phillip Island.
With the WorldSBK field due back at the grand prix circuit on Friday as the 32nd edition of the production series officially gets underway with the Yamaha Finance round, the 34-year-old Spaniard Bautista will be full of confidence after showing his contemporaries a clean air of heels in final testing on his all-new Panigale V4 R.
As well as being the quickest machine down the main chute, Bautista was able to get the best out of the V4 R on the fast and flowing Phillip Island curves as he stopped the clock with a best lap of 1min.30.303secs.
Bautista was one of six riders to eclipse the existing lap record (1:30.848), with Tom Sykes (BMW, 1:30.539), Leon Haslam (Kawasaki, 1:30.668), world champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki, 1:30.722), Marco Melandri (Yamaha, 1:30.760) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Kawasaki, 1:20.840) also joining him. That’s four of the five WorldSBK manufacturers at the pointy end of the field.
The final World shakedown gave an indication of just how the dynamics of the series have already changed since 2018, with Bautista new to the scene from MotoGP, Haslam returning for the first time since 2015, Razgatlioglu continuing to improve at a dramatic rate, and new models from Ducati and BMW already making their presence felt.
Add in an enlarged WorldSBK program in 2019 – a sprint race will now be held on Sunday between the traditional longer races – and the scene is set for one of the best Phillip Island rounds in recent memory as defending champion Rea faces new and improved threats from all angles.
Yamaha’s Michael van der Mark completed the test seventh on the timesheets, ahead of German rookie Sandro Cortese – a Moto3 winner at Phillip Island in 2012 – Alex Lowes (Yamaha) and Jordi Torres (Kawasaki).
British guns Leon Camier (Honda) and Chaz Davies (Ducati) were 13th and 14th, while Australia’s Troy Herfoss (Honda) has been trying to resolve a number of setup gremlins with the ECU and suspension. He was 19th fastest.