Carnage and variety in Indonesia

Alvaro Bautista has made it five wins from six races at the start of this season’s World Superbike Championship. What’s been most impressive so far is the manner in which he’s clinched the different victories: rain, shine, short race, long race, front of grid or midfield, the Spaniard seems perfectly capable of coping with whatever you throw at him. After only two of twelve rounds the championship is by no means over but, no doubt about it, Ducati’s rivals have a lot of work to do.

Greg Haines writes from Heathrow Terminal 5

Here I am again in an airport, waiting for my flight back to Barcelona. What is it about so-called ‘business people’ thinking they’re clever by having videos calls on loud speaker in the middle of a busy terminal? I think they feel important. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you? I spent the morning catching up on sleep and listening to Bob Mortimer on Desert Island Discs. It’s got me thinking about which songs, which book and which luxury I’d take with me. The luxury I have with me right now is a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Anyway, let’s talk about bikes.

My overriding thought after the Indonesian weekend, just as it was last year, is that the track is dangerous. I’m not talking about a lack of run-off or concern about medical facilities. I’m talking about the fact that anything off the optimum line is ridiculously dusty and slippery, more suited to Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean than Jonathan Rea and Alvaro Bautista. Once again, we’ve left Mandalika with numerous riders injured. In a world full of over-the-top health and safety measures and people seemingly unable to take responsibility for their own safety and wellbeing, the fact motorcycle racing and motorcycles in general allow for a certain freedom is refreshing – but surely in this case something could be done to make what is already a very dangerous sport a little safer? The track at Lombok is like Monaco without the barriers. I know it’s the riders’ job to keep it on the straight and narrow, maintaining the optimum line, but for me the penalty of an almost-certain crash whenever one is forced or runs wide is too high. Can’t more be done to clean up the surface?

The upcoming test sessions in Aragon (Kawasaki and Honda, I believe) then Barcelona (all manufacturers) at the end of the month will be pivotal. Ducati have made huge steps on the electronic front, helping enormously with their corner exits and front-end stability. They’ve clearly made massive progress with their starts as well; the way those Panigale V4s blast off the line is incredible. Let’s not forget that Toprak Razgatlioglu scored the most points over the weekend and Yamaha have also improved a lot. It’s going to be very interesting to see how everybody goes once we get back to European circuits in cooler conditions. Both Bautista and Toprak claim things could change.

Another big talking point is Kawasaki. What on earth is going on there? Clearly they’ve had to try something radical in a somewhat desperate bid to close the gap to the front. As we said in commentary on Eurosport last year, the green bike is no longer the best and everyone else has moved on so much that KRT can no longer rely solely on the talents of Jonathan Rea to mask the bike’s issues. It’s a similar scenario to what’s happened in the past on the MotoGP scene with Casey Stoner at Ducati and Marc Marquez at Honda. I had an intriguing chat yesterday with Michael Laverty for his opinion. Michael reckons KRT have either shifted the weight balance to go for better turn-in in a bid to close in on Ducati or to improve tyre life with the soft SCX tyre. Perhaps they’re putting too much downforce through the tyres, hence overheating them and causing all the problems we’ve seen across the opening two rounds in Australia and Indonesia. The full article, including Michael’s take on it, will be out in Motorcycle News this Wednesday.

My title favourite is Alvaro Bautista – and he was even before the red lights went out at Phillip Island two weekends ago. However, the opening pair of events have been very much a continuation of 2022 but with a fresh points table to start. That’s a result of the shortest ever off-season and very limited testing. Even the tests which did happen were in pretty cool conditions at Jerez and Portimao, then the Phillip Island test took place in warm weather but we all know what a strange circuit that is in terms of not demonstrating the full picture for the season that lies ahead.

Although Bautista has had a stunning start, I really do think we’re still in for a fantastic season of variety. How crazy was yesterday?! Last year we had ten podium finishers across the campaign while this year we’ve already have seven from six races! Both factory Ducati, Yamaha and Kawasaki men have already banked a top three result at least once, while it really was great to see Xavi Vierge achieve his first podium aboard the Honda on Sunday. Well done that man!

Image courtesy of Aruba Ducati