Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl had their first experience of the all new for 2017 Honda Fireblade on the opening day of the Jerez test, and it was clear that there is still plenty of work to be done by the Ten Kate squad to get the bikes ready for the start of the season.
With the Phillip Island opener only four weeks away the Dutch team faces a race against time to be up to speed for the start of the WorldSBK campaign. Both riders made it clear that it is very early days for the project and were unwilling to offer definitive opinions as a result, but initial impressions were positive.
"The team has had the bikes two weeks so you can only do so much in two weeks as an independent team. The engine at the moment, we're just happy to have an engine that's racy – let's say just not out of the street bike. They literally built the engine that would come here and last so of course there is some work to be done in a lot of areas. I pretty much matched the same lap time I did here at the race with race tires so it's a starting point," said Hayden. "Of course, I'd have loved to be doing 1:40s but we didn't expect that. It just don't happen in racing, so."
In his second season in the WorldSBK championship the American will know that time is of the essence for him to win races and titles. While it is realistic to expect Ten Kate to take time to develop the Fireblade into a race winning package it can also be taken for granted that Hayden will be impatient and pushing the team hard to the limit. Last year the Dutch squad found out exactly why the 35-year-old's work ethic is seen as his greatest attribute. It will be crucial in the coming tests for the team.
"We chipped away at it and took a couple of chunks here and there. Also, my condition, is still not 100 percent after my knee injury. It'll be another month before I'm fully ready and I wasn't able to go at my maximum today. The gap to the Kawasakis looks really bad today but we have to stay calm and realize what we're in for. You dream of showing up and getting a surprise and the bike is way better than you expected and way closer. It's been a long time since I've had that happen so I was prepared for a first day test like this."
Having only received the bike in the last three weeks there are still plenty of new parts to be added to the package. Bradl commented, "This is the first spec engine so there is a lot more to come from it. We need to work on the electronic settings too. We've got a lot of problems also with wheelie control. There are a lot of things that are not working with each other well in the electronics. The wheelie control is acting aggressive. Overall the first day is OK but still a lot of work in front of us, which we knew. It's not unexpected."
Bradl was aware of the challenge facing the team and was mentally prepared for it but like Hayden knows that the clock is ticking towards the season opener.
"We have some good guys working in the team but we also know there is a lot of work in front of us," said the 2011 Moto2 World Champion. "There is not too long before the first race. We know we're a little bit behind. We have to find our way. I'm pretty sure that in two or three months we can make a big step. We can't expect huge steps before that. The guys need to go back to the workshop, summarize everything and get back to work there. Then we can make the next step. I hope that for the Aragon race, the first in Europe, we can expect something more."
The Ten Kate Honda team will continue to test this week in Jerez and Portimao.
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