Phillip Island is unique. The opening race is held in the southern hemisphere, seven weeks before the circus gets to Europe. The track has its own climate and last year’s resurfacing still makes the track abrasive. Testing here took place last week, which gave teams a bit of additional setup, but it also took its toll in injuries, something that continued into the qualifying runs. The morning’s session in both Superbike and Supersport were lost to rain, but the afternoon sessions ran without a problem.
Last year, the Ducati Panigale, in its debut weekend. scored a pole position at the hands of Carlos Checa. It was a promising sign that eventually showed that Phillip Island is not a yardstick for performance for the rest of the year. This year, Chaz Davies high-sided his bike, hitting his head but not ruling him out of tomorrow’s qualifying, while his teammate Davide Giuliano was third fastest in the second session. The surprise, though, was Alex Lowes, taking advantage of the much improved Suzuki GSX-R1000. While it’s never a good idea to read too much into one qualifying session, especially one at Phillip Island, it’s hard to ignore a debut ride like that.
Marco Melandri took to his new bike with characteristic ease, beating his new teammate Sylvain Guintoli by 0.6 seconds. Ex-Aprilia rider Eugene Laverty slotted in between the Hondas of Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam, the Hondas demonstrating that the riders are strong enough when the track doesn’t need power.
There is one more practice session that will determine who will end up in which Superpole. The top ten riders after the first three qualifying (free practice) sessions will be in Superpole 2, while the next ten are lumped together in Superpole 1 with the top two from that session sneaking into the second session, much like MotoGP qualifying. As long as the weather doesn’t interfere, it’s possible an EVO rider could qualify for Superpole 2, but that has not as yet happened.
Is EVO working? It’s far too soon to tell, but the top spots are all filled with full-fat bikes that have raced here before. The MV Agusta and the EBRs are at an early stage in their development and are surrounded by EVO bikes.
Michel Fabrizio was declared unfit before the first session and will not be taking part at all this weekend.
Kenan Sofuoglu opened his campaign for a fourth world championship in precisely the right way. While there are worries about tyres in the Supersport race, Sofuoglu is not one to let issues like that get in his way. Sofuoglu is one of only two men in this field, the other being the returning Jules Cluzel, to have ever won a World Supersport race, and this year is about who can hold him off another title.