After a preseason where Jonathan Rea had dominated practically all the days of tests on board of the 2019 version ZX-10 RR, the arrival of WorldSBK in Australia showed a drastic change of the guard.
The dominance of Ducati’s Álvaro Bautista in Phillip Island, first in the official test and later in all of the races, surprised the fans and a good portion of the paddock.
KRT chief Guim Roda has had a lot to think about before the Superbike circus descends on Buriram:
How have you analysed the results of the Australian Round and performace of Bautista in the two main races?
“First of all, I’m a little confused about the difference in performance between Bautista and the rest of the Ducati riders, those of Davies, Laverty and Rinaldi. The combination formed at Phillip Island with Bautista, the new Ducati and this year’s regulations, has worked well and will therefore be a more competitive season this year.
“Bautista comes from a high level in MotoGP™, where he achieved some top five finishes and remained regularly in the top ten. It is proven that his level is high, and his adaptation has been fast, at least at a circuit he knows.
“We will have to see how it works at other circuits. I also believe that at Phillip Island, the tyre factor has hurt us a little more than it should, in the sense of being more competitive to get closer to Bautista’s level.”
Do you think there have been substantial differences in tyre performance between some teams and others?
“The tyre grip changes depending on the type of bike, riding style and circuit. We know that Phillip Island is a critical circuit in terms of tyre wear and tear, a lot more is demanded from them and so they suffer more than necessary.
In the case of Jonny , to get fast, he had to use the grip of the tyre too much, where blisters then appeared, with the consequent risk of not finishing the race. The form of riding that the Ducati can allow, with more power, without so much requirement, with the type of engine that it has and the skills of Bautista, made this difference more evident.
“Jonny just rode slower to finish second. It’s something we knew, and we could not go beyond these positions in those races.”
The Tissot Superpole Race, much shorter, showed a very different story…
“Yes, with only ten laps Jonny’s pace was much stronger. We knew that we could do the ten laps at full capacity and there we did see a slightly different race, closer to the reality of what Race 1 and Race 2 should have been if we had not had the blisters problem.
“On the other hand, Haslam’s tyres lasted longer at his best pace, and he performed very well. He did a great job. Considering that it was the first race after his return to the championship, to finish ahead of the other riders in the category, except for Bautista, who was very strong, and Rea, who is a four-time World Champion, was very satisfying and is a good sign of the level that can rise to this year.”
The first Round of the season has already offered us the first duels between Rea and Haslam, especially in race two, where they had a intense battle. It seems clear that he has not returned to play second best to anyone…
“Haslam’s will and motivation in the KRT team is to do his best, and that is always to try to win. That motivation is good, and we support it. Another thing is the reality we have on the day. You have to understand that he’s not Superman, that getting here and beating everyone is very difficult; I do not say impossible, but it is very difficult, so you cannot lose sight of the goal. He needs to improve each race and keep picking up the pace.
“In the first race we saw a mistake that we could have saved. Sometimes, great desire makes you lose 16 or 20 points that can be very valuable. It is not fair to pretend that he must win the World Championship in the first year, but with his will to work and his enthusiasm, he will surprise quite often, riding at a higher level than people expected.
“Our target with Leon is that he can be in the top five, give him time to know the limits of the bike and, facing the second half of the championship, see him fight continuously for the top three.”
How will you cope with the following rounds of the championship, starting with Thailand, where heat and high temperatures also tend to play an important role?
“Having seen what we saw in Australia, the idea is to try to understand Ducati’s performance with this new motorcycle, to see if it is just the rider or if the others are also getting to that level.
“We need to see what weak points the bike, or maybe the rider, has on different circuits. From our side, we think the package we have is more competitive, Jonny is stronger than ever, so the idea is to continue working and adding points.
“We are happy with the work that Jonny did in Australia, he was very professional, very confident, controlling the situation to obtain the maximum possible points, and always bearing in mind that we have many races and a long championship ahead.”
Have the Australian races eroded in any way the confidence in the ZX-10RR and in the expectations generated after a practically perfect pre-season?
“I believe that the improved performance we have seen compared to last year is real, we have taken a step forward, but we must not only see how we have improved but also that the competition has improved.
“You must analyse circuit to circuit what the others are able to do, to know how many steps we must advance. We have to see if our progress is enough to stand up to Ducati and the others, and from there continue working.
“I think that after the first four rounds, after Assen, we will have much more information and we will know where we stand in the championship, we will have seen how the new regulations affect us and how it can go in the second half of the year.”