The Phillip Island circuit in Australia hosted the final pre-season test for the WorldSBK riders on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 February, with Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes wrapping up their pre-race checks and set-up tasks in readiness for the first round of the year this coming weekend.
Rea took his official Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR to the top place overall on the time sheets, with Lowes 12th.
Light rain and several red flags prevented a full first day of action but on the second day the early morning and then afternoon sessions allowed the KRT staff to evaluate tyre options and set-up decisions looking to the imminent arrival of race weekend.
Rea worked on both tyre life and finding an optimum bike balance to take on the unique 4.445km Phillip Island circuit, which is always a tough test for tyre durability at race pace.
Lowes also worked on machine balance to find feel and feedback after realising that his previous set-up from the European winter test programme needed some modification at such a fast and flowing circuit. He and his tech crew have now settled on a base set-up to take into the start of race weekend on Friday.
Now the refreshed KRT line up of five times champion Rea and new signing Lowes will face three races at PI - two full distance events (one on Saturday and one on Sunday) and a ten lap sprint race on Sunday morning, 1 March.
The opening round of the 2020 championship is the first of 13 rounds, with the second one coming along at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar, between 13 and 15 March.
Jonathan Rea, stated: “It has been a positive test all-in-all. Even though some sessions were hindered a bit by the weather, we have been able to confirm a lot of items from the balance side, to try to get the bike to turn more naturally. That was out focus coming here, knowing what we knew from last year. I felt good with the bike and tested two different front tyres. Both gave good but different sensations so it is more about understanding which one we go towards the weekend with. You never really know in this race. We have done race distance on all the tyres we used and I feel fast and consistent with all. But you never really know until the race. It is clear at this track that you can go all out and be really fast but you tend to run into issues at the end of the race. So it is more about trying to make your consistent rhythm easy and I feel like we have a bike that is quite user-friendly. That is positive to go into Friday with.”
Alex Lowes, stated: “Obviously it has not been as easy to find the right feeling and set-up on the bike as I would have liked coming here but also it is the first time on the bike on such a strange track layout. It is so fast here, with lots of changes of direction. How I felt on the bike earlier in the winter tests was not quite the same here, so we worked a bit on the set-up. I got a little bit frustrated a couple of times, made a couple of mistakes, but the last session it was a bit better and we have found a base set-up that I can go into the weekend with. I am looking forward to getting my first race weekend in green started in a few days from now.”
Pere Riba, Crew Chief for Jonathan Rea, stated: “Before coming here, and it is the same as every year, we knew this is the real first time that you can see everybody – all the teams, riders and manufacturers – and there are some new bikes and riders – so before you come here you are expecting to see where everybody is. Now we can understand where everyone is. Last year was tough for us even if Johnny finished all the races in second place; Alvaro was really strong and riding really well. We struggled with the rear tyre so before we came here I studied this aspect and we focused 100% on the most important points of this track. Phillip Island is quite unique and we have to save the tyre for race distance. But at the same time you have to be fast. We worked calmly with Johnny and he understands what this track asks of him, so step-by-step we focused and followed all the items we wanted to test - all the plans - so we are happy.”
Marcel Duinker, Crew Chief for Alex Lowes, stated: “We did not finish where we would have wanted to finish in the timesheets but we were fast and competitive over race distance, which is very positive. We did most laps during this test, which was one of our targets. This is a special track and we did not have too many laps in the previous winter tests before we got here. The overall package of Alex and the bike are still fresh and therefore I am sure we can improve our performance for the weekend.”
Other Kawasaki WorldSBK riders at the PI test included Kawasaki Puccetti Racing’s Xavi Fores, who was overall 14th and Sandro Cortese from the Outdo Kawasaki TPR squad with the 13th fastest time. New rider for 2020, Chilean Maximilian Scheib from the Orelac Racing VerdNatura team, ended up 15th from the 19 riders at PI.