Troy Bayliss needs no introduction to Superbike race fans but his re-introduction to Australian Superbike racing for a full season in 2018, at the ripe old age of 48, has been one of the talking points of the nascent season.
Fit, tanned and working hard for four months to get into full fitness for his part-owner/part-rider role in the Desmosport Ducati team, three-time WorldSBK Champion Bayliss cut just as positive a figure in the PI paddock as he ever did in his pomp. He even qualified second in the first ASBK Free Practice session. “I am here 2018!” laughed Bayliss. “Actually, today was a really good day and I am pretty impressed with how everything went. I have done very little time on the bike, only two days. It is a brand new bike as well. We can use the 1299cc Final Edition Panigale here in Australia but our bikes are very ‘productiony’, as we can only do the fork internals and a shock, a pipe and a tune. It sounds good, being a 1299, but the bike does not rev a lot. But still it is good and I am gaining confidence.”
What Bayliss is doing in ASBK is impressive already, but the reason behind his comeback is not the same one that drew him into a brief comeback in 2015, as a replacement for the injured Davide Giugliano in the official Ducati WorldSBK team. So why come back now?
“What you are asking me is like the same as a lot of people have asked me, “What the hell are you doing coming back?” It is a real strange one as I am a partner in this Desmosport ASBK team, with Ben Henry. We have been doing OK. We did really good with Mike Jones, but of course we lost Mike (to racing in Europe) and then we had some younger guys on the bike that needed a little bit more time. We had some of our sponsors say that they wanted me on the bike, whether it is for coverage, results, who knows? But at least now the results are good and the coverage is going to be good anyway.”
Bayliss understands the weirdness of his comeback or many, especially as he was so definite that he would not do any more after his rides at PI and Chang in 2015.
“It is a strange situation,” said Bayliss. “The good thing about it all is that it has got me out of a hole, I guess. Coming to the races, we have my son Oli racing as well, but also being part of the team owner and everything. What is has done is get me healthy and fit. The last four months have been terrible trying to get ready. I had to lose seven or eight kilos. It has certainly got me going and after today, the improvements we have made, I am right near the front. I feel like the old me again.”
Bayliss never wanted to retire when he did, but knew it was time to. Unusually, after so many years of obviously missing racing, this time around it was not his desire to go racing that pushed him back on track. It was not an itch he simply had to scratch this time. “I do not need to do this for myself,” he admitted. “I usually do things for other people, really. But this morning I was a bit excited, and then I thought in the last four months I had done so much work, that even if it was not all my thing to come back, I know that whatever the situation I am going to give it everything I have got to do a good job. That is basically it. All the guys that are supporting us in the team – I do not want to blow wind up my arse – but they are going to get a lot more coverage than what they normally would. I am more than happy now that I know I can be the near the front, which is going to be good for everyone.”
Bayliss knew he had to make the right preparations for his comeback, but also stressed that he had time to get ready this time, unlike his stand-in WorldSBK rides last time out. “It is so different to that ride I did two or three years ago. That was on like two days’ notice after years away. Now I have had a few months to prepare and right now I am feeling like the old me. I really enjoy riding the bike.”
He continued, “I am happy at the moment and looking forward to it. But there is not intention of anything more.” So no attempted world comeback, or similar?
“One of the big things is the travel and I hate the travel,” said Bayliss. “Here in Australia we have seven rounds and I am here at the races with Oli my son, as he is racing as well. It is a fun thing, but I take it very seriously.”
Oli races in Aussie Supersport 300. So can Troy still find time to help Oli?
“He helps me normally!” said Bayliss. “He says, “Dad. Tuck down more! Dad, lean off the bike more!” We have a good crew here and I have a good guy who is always with Oli, and we talk in between sessions. I do a little bit for him and he even helps me, but we have a great time away.”
Troy and his wife Kim were something of a double act during his WorldSBK career – Troy on track and Kim quietly helping and guiding off track – and Bayliss paid tribute to her as he explained the new dynamic in the overall Bayliss household in 2018.
“Poor Kim, I am back into it and she is behind me with it,” said Troy. “Kim is all good with that but we have me racing now, Oli racing, my other son Mitch is MMA fighting – he has a big fight next week. Our house is like Action Man house! We have one sane one, Kim – and maybe two. My daughter Abbey – who is now in her third year at University, doing advanced Mathematics. So she is cruising along doing that and the rest of us are a bit more active.”
Bayliss will have three Aussie Superbike races to take part in at PI. One on Saturday and two on Sunday. And the entire WorldSBK paddock will be glued to the trackside, watching a true legend get back into the groove.
By Gordon Ritchie