On the first day of the very last WorldSBK test sessions before the start of the season at Phillip Island next weekend, there was one rider head and shoulder ahead of his rivals – new WorldSBK inductee for the official Aruba.it Ducati team, Alvaro Bautista.
For Bautista the lap time is pleasing but the way it was arrived at was even more satisfying.
“The important thing is that today we tried some changes in the set-up of the bike that we wanted to try in the other tests in Portimao,” explained Bautista. “It was important to understand the track, so it was not the best place to try these kinds of things. This track I know very well and in the past I was fast here. In the morning I started with a good feeling and we decided to try a different set-up on the bike. The bike is too young and we need to understand the bike. We tried different set-ups in the geometry and definitely we did a step forward. I felt much, much better to turn in the corner and to have more confidence, especially in the front tyre. I think more important than the lap time is my feeling with the bike. To have a good feeling than to make one fast lap.”
As Bautista soared to a lap time over 0.4 seconds better than his closest challenger Alex Lowes, his team-mate Chaz Davies and the other two Ducati riders Eugene Laverty and Michael Ruben Rinaldi were struggling behind. But Bautista had no more insight than anybody else as to why this should be at the end of the session.
“I do not know exactly what is the problem with the other Ducatis,” he stated. “I am working myself, and maybe this Ducati is more similar to the MotoGP spec, so for me maybe it is a bit easier than the other riders who are used to using the vee-twin. You have to ask them.”
His pace was surprising in that he is still a rookie rider, who was clearly still earning much about his new role at the previous tests in Portugal, in late January. He put some of it down to recent PI track time.
“For sure I am the new rider here, so there are a lot of rider who have much more (WorldSBK) experience than me,” said Bautista. “A bike is a bike, and when you are fast, you can be fast in MotoGP, or here, and the important thing is to understand how to go fast with each bike. Every time I ride this bike I can understand better and better. In Portimao I think we were fast but at a track that I never rode on before. In a track that is quite difficult like Portimao we struggled a little bit. Here is a track that I know very well. I raced here four months ago, so I know the reference. And especially with this temperature it is much, much better than in October. So for me it was easy to have a good feeling and a base.”
There was a significant top speed advantage for Bautista on day one, especially as he has a huge 16,350 rpm limit to play with, and all the other have less than 15,000rpm limits. But it is more than just that that explains such a high top speed figure of 314kmph, from Bautista’s point of view.
“Yes, I am so light, so that is important,” he stated. “About the revs I do not know how the difference is. If it is 1500 more then it helps a little bit. Also in this track I remember in the last GP here, that the exit from the last corner is very important to make a good top speed. I saw the sector times and in T4 I am so strong. I think this can also help for the high speed. Also for overtaking, especially after the finish line.”
The wind got up in the afternoon, meaning Bautista did not improve his best time from the morning, but the conditions were still better than he had experienced in his MotoGP career.
“Yes, it is bad, but for sure it is worse in MotoGP in October,” said Alvaro. “You feel the wind. Maybe it is the combination of the wind and the cold temperature of the track, today the track has the highest temperature I have seen here in PI. In October the maximum I see is, I dunno, 22 degrees. Today was over 40. For sure this afternoon the wind got stronger.”
With so many outward design similarities between the MotoGP Ducati and the WorldSBK V4R, Bautista can make some comparisons, especially in engine terms.
“The engine character is similar to the MotoGP bike, but with much less power,” he said. “So in the morning, exiting to the main straight, I thought in the first two laps that there is something wrong with the bike. But they said, ‘No, no, it is the power you have.’ I remember with the factory (MotoGP) Ducati here, you open the gas and whoah! The bike pushed a lot, but on this bike it is the maximum power. It is the same character but with much less power.”
Bautista was asked if he still things about MotoGP and his answer was polite but firm. “I am not thinking about MotoGP. Sometimes I make some comparisons, but I am not thinking about MotoGP, because it is different. Fortunately today has been one of the more fun days I have had here in this track, with a big bike. Better than in MotoGP, because maybe the temperature, whatever, but today I felt the bike. Normally when I come here I am just always struggling with the tyres, and the cold, and no good feeling, a floating feeling every time. But today I felt the tyres and the bike, so I enjoyed it. It has been one of my best days here.”
By Gordon Ritchie