Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes did not get to a podium finish on the first days back at school in Phillip Island, but he did leave with an identical 30 points score to third-place man Marco Melandri. Lowes is fourth because Melandri scored this place in race one.
Now in his fourth year on a R1 in WorldSBK, he still had a new thing to deal with this year. Three races a weekend, two on Sunday.
“I liked the new schedule,” Lowes told bikesportnews.com. “It was tough for the sprint race because everyone can go a bit harder, but I quite like that. The last race was a difficult ride for me. I got bumped into in turn one, and went wide and lost a lot of time. I was back behind Sandro and Eugene.
“I passed Sandro and it took me two or thee laps to get past Eugene, and by that point I had lost a couple of seconds to the guys in front. I stuck in, dug in hard, but I knew we had tyre wear problems. So I just tried to chip away. Then I had some big slides and I was playing around with my maps, on tyre saving modes, and I probably could have gone a lap earlier at the end to try and catch Michael and Marco.
“But it was all right, quite good. Maybe I could have gone with the Kawasakis. If you look at my pace from lap three to lap 22 I was at a similar pace to them. So it was a shame to lose out in the first corner. In general, it was quite good.”
With new models and engine upgrades all around him, Lowes was feeling overmatched at times, in the most straightforward test of all – top speed and power.
“Kawasaki was obviously a step in front as they were last year, and then there is another red bike a step in front of that,” said Lowes. “We just need to keep working like we are, which is good, and keep nibbling away and challenge for the podiums at the next race. We were not too far away today. A bit closer than we were here last year.”
Many were surprised at Bautista being so potent in his first weekend, Lowes less so. “Not really,” he affirmed. “The guy who nearly got on the podium here in MotoGP, who always goes really well here? It was clear from the first laps - he did 320km/h on lap five of the tests. You have to ride it well, which he did really well, probably better than the other guys.
“If he did not roll off on the last laps it would have been a gap of 20 seconds. I do not think he is 20 seconds better than Johnny Rea, or everyone else, personally. It is a bit of a shame because there will be a lot of people in MotoGP who will say that, ‘Oh, someone decent in a Superbike and then wins by 20 seconds…’ But that is not really the case.
“If you look how he was riding the bike – when I passed him in the sprint race – but how fast he came past me. It is not really the same, and it is quite clear on TV to see that. When you have tyre wear issues you can’t override the bike in the corners to catch up a speed disadvantage like that. I think the rules at the minute are not quite right, with the revs and all that, and they need two or three rounds before they can be adjusted, so hopefully after two or three rounds we can sort of get the speeds a bit closer.
“The Kawasaki is also a lot faster this year than it was last year. I would say so. Last year I was able to pass the guys in the straights, this year I struggled to stay in the slipstream. Leon and Johnny are not the lightest sort of riders on the grid. I think once that is adjusted a little bit we are in for a great year. It is nice to have some close racing, but without that one guy miles out the front. I am looking forward to Thailand and like I said, challenging for a podium.”