Kawasaki Racing Team riders Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam finished the first competitive day of track action at the opening round of the FIM Superbike World Championship in Australia in second and third places respectively. After two sessions riding against the stopwatch in FP1 and FP2 Rea and Haslam now face a new-style of Saturday Superpole qualifying, and then the first race, which is scheduled for 22-laps.
Rea was close to being fastest rider of all today but could not find the last degree of performance in the final sector of the track to overhaul the fastest man, Alvaro Bautista. Rea was just 0.014 seconds from the top spot on day one, after concentrating his efforts on making a final set-up choice and evaluating his race tyre options.
Haslam’s return to the WorldSBK paddock, as reigning British Superbike Champion, has been impressive from the beginning. He did not disappoint today with third best time of all, only 0.155 seconds from the fastest.
A strong opening day overall for the new Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR, which features a higher rev ceiling than in 2018, is an encouraging start to a 2019 campaign in which Rea will be out to defend his status as series champion.
After some modifications to the race weekend schedule in 2019 there were only two free practice sessions today, not the three of 2018. Even with only two outings the KRT squad overall used its track time well, even if Haslam lost some minutes after encountering a small issue with his gear-linkage in FP2.
Saturday the 23rdof February will see Superpole and then race one, while Sunday’s race schedule includes a ten-lap sprint race – which also determines race two grid positions – and then a final full race distance contest in the afternoon.
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “A positive day. We had a lot of information from two days of testing that we put together and I am very proud of the guys because this morning we rolled out with a completely fresh package, based on all the information we had gathered. I am happy with the result. Thanks to Pere and the guys who worked on both Wednesday and Thursday after testing. I felt really good with the bike this morning and the target today was to understand the different tyres that Pirelli brought here. So in FP1 we did a long run, and put race distance on tyres on both Friday sessions. We ticked that box. Very clearly there was one package I preferred and we still have more track time tomorrow morning. I feel good here and I feel that I have good pace to fight for the podium, but we need a little bit more to race for the win.”
Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “It is so good to be back here on Phillip Island. I am loving it with the KRT team and Kawasaki, making really good steps every session. My crew chief Marcel said on the Monday before the official tests that we wanted to go quicker in every session and I think we achieved that goal. This session it has been barely a tenth better than this morning, but every session has been quicker. Step-by-step we are getting closer. I have used two tyres today, for two race runs, and I am feeling pretty good. The aim is obviously to challenge for podiums here. I have good memories of Phillip Island because last time I was here in 2015 I won a race. It would be nice to revisit that memory but it will not be easy. There are a lot of fast guys out there. We will work session by session now and see what we can do.”