After an enforced absence from the racetrack due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Kawasaki Racing Team pairing of Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes completed their first WorldSBK comeback test at Misano today, having enjoyed two full days of intense action at the Italian circuit.
In terms of outright lap times Rea was the second best WorldSBK rider on display at Misano, with 1’33.206 on the very grippy new asphalt that has been recently laid at the 4.226km long coastal circuit. Lowes set his own best–of-test 1’33.694 lap time later in the afternoon, placing him just outside the existing track best lap time, after completing over 100 laps today alone.
The entire KRT squad worked hard at this test to not just get back into the groove after some months away from the track but also to adhere to the national, regional and self-imposed Covid-19 regulations, designed to ensure the safety of everyone involved in these tests.
With differing degrees of overall experience on the Ninja ZX-10RR five times Kawasaki champion Rea and 2020 signing Lowes worked on some different aspects of machine set-up and their approach to these tests in general.
Rea spent today with his technical crew finding greater confidence on the unexpectedly grippy new asphalt. They made the most of the gradual set-up changes to the point where Rea posted the fastest time on race tyres, before he and some others tried out even softer rear qualifiers to improve the pace yet again.
Lowes, at another new circuit for him on the KRT machine, built up his confidence and pace to leave Misano both satisfied with the work already done and ready find more improvements at the next tests in Spain.
Now the team will relocate to their home venue of Montmelo near Barcelona, for a track outing on the eighth and ninth of July. The season itself is due to re-start – after a long gap since the opening round in Australia back in early March – at Jerez de la Frontera, again in Spain, with races on the first and second of August.
Jonathan Rea, stated: “I am quite satisfied with this test and it was very valuable to get up to speed. Yesterday everything felt quite alien to me, especially as the asphalt was new and the grip levels were high. I just had to adapt my riding style a little bit. Also we changed the bike setup; actually to take a little bit of grip away. I was still not 100% confident but I felt better a lot better after the tyre grip had dropped a bit. After six or seven laps I felt more comfortable on the bike. At the end, with a race tyre, I was still able to be very fast and I felt confident to push. We did not get excited or carried away when we were struggling; we just went about it step-by-step with the crew, and with Showa, changing the bike set-up. We did not have many huge items to try. I really feel like here, with the grip level being so high, we have been able to achieve a little bit more natural turning from the bike. That is a huge thing to take away from here and I hope we can apply it to other tracks where we have been struggling in the past.”
Alex Lowes, stated: “The test today has been really good because we had clear targets that we wanted to achieve at the start of the day. We wanted to do a race simulation while trying to keep a good pace after such a long time off the bike. And also find a direction with the front end setup for the Barcelona tests. We achieved both those things. I had a nice 20 laps this morning, when the track was really hot, which gave us good information for the next races in Jerez and Portimao, because we think they are also going to be hot. At the end of today we tried to improve our pace on new tyres and I was quite satisfied with what we did. After 103 laps I was a little bit tired at the end but it was a successful test and we have a lot of information to take into the next test. That will be another new track for me on the Kawasaki, so it is all about gelling with the bike in all different conditions. I also want to say a big thanks to the team. It has not been easy to organise the test with everything that has gone on but a massive thanks to the KRT guys.”
Pere Riba, Crew Chief for Jonathan Rea, stated: “Testing has been very good. After this long lockdown it was very interesting to see how the riders would be, how the mechanics and everybody worked. And they all worked very well. Johnny is in really good shape and he has been working a lot on his psychology and physically he was very strong. He came here with his batteries recharged. This track, on the other hand, is like a new track as it has been completely re-asphalted. The grip is impressive – completely crazy! On a Q tyre Johnny was 1.5 seconds faster than what he did last year. Yesterday, all this new grip made a new request to the balance of the bike and Johnny was not so happy. Step-by-step we understood the direction and from the first ‘out lap’ yesterday to the final one today we did not stop improving. I am honestly very proud of the job everybody did in the team. Johnny did a 1’33.4 today, making him the fastest one with a race tyre. On his Q tyre he made a mistake on the first lap but still did a 1’33.2 on his second lap. That could have been a 1’32.9 or 1’33.0.”
Marcel Duinker, Crew Chief for Alex Lowes, stated: “A very good test; very positive. We know Phillip Island is a special track and we did well there in the season opener. We came here with a positive mentality and I think everybody was glad to come back to the track. Yesterday, when we started off, it was more like a warm-up after being away for so long. But today, we really sat down to improve the speed of the package. This afternoon especially we made some significant steps with the bike performance - and Alex used it to the maximum. We have a clear idea where we improved and also what we need to improve in the following test - so we can go away from this track with a happy face.”
Guim Roda, KRT Team Manager, stated: “This has been such an intense test. After four months stopped – the longest in the last 10 years for sure - it has been nice to come back to the racetrack. We tried to get into the rhythm and let the riders enjoy on the bikes. It has been our first experience in ‘Covid-19 mode’ and for sure we need to improve our system. We made PCR tests and Antibody tests for all staff. We even asked a few suppliers who were in attendance to do the same, to ensure to the max that nobody could spread the virus. The most important thing will be to be responsible and try to follow current government rules about virus prevention outside the paddock. We are conscious that part of the proposed racing program is linked to preventing Covid-19 from coming into the paddock, so let’s see if we can ‘win’ this race too.”