2014 Phillip Island World Superbike Sunday Roundup: Red Flags Save Tyres

Surprises are the only thing that can be safely predicted about motorbike racing, and Phillip Island is unique enough to deliver them in spades. The long gap, dseven weeks before the second race, gives Phillip Island the air of pre-season testing … with points.

When you consider the surprise that Suzuki had their first win since 2010, MV Agusta had been waiting since 1976. When Eugene Laverty is the first World Superbike rider to win back-to-back races on different machines, Jules Cluzel goes and stops World Supersport from getting a new race winner in the time most likely to deliver a fresh winner. These great surprises overshadowed the new EVO class or the fact that Ducati had two fourth places with Davide Giugliano on a bike that didn't even score points in some races last year. When there was a fear that the Supersport tyres might not last the distance, credible or not, an exploding engine brought out red flags, guaranteeing that we will never know if it was a genuine concern or not. 

It was clear throughout qualifying that the Suzuki had turned a cornerin development. While Phillip Island is different enough that, being mostly corners that riders love, a lack of power isn't as much of a hindrance as other tracks, having more power is always a benefit. The Suzuki looked to be up on power, but Alex Lowes made it look like a really good bike during qualifying. Come Sunday, Eugene Laverty showed that, apart from the fact he is an immense talent, this year's Suzuki might not be the dog it was last year. It isn't known yet how the loss of the engine in the second race will affect the bike, though. Lowes was affected by an ankle injury he suffered in Saturday's free practice, but he has seven weeks to recover before the next race. 

The Aprilia, as demonstrated by Sylvain Guintoli, and to a lesser degree Marco Melandri, is still a very fast bike. Even the new engine restrictions brought in this year don't slow it down, and, once again, Guintoli leads the title chase after the first round. The new silver livery also makes it look fast, and, as any eleven year old will tell you, that matters. Guintoli had several months without riding, after his collarbone surgery last November, but he appears to be fit once more. Melandri unsurprisingly looked less confident, in spite of a second place in the first race, still getting to grips with the bike. 

The bike everyone rates as the best all-round package is the Kawasaki, which is why so many EVO teams have chosen it as their machine. David Salom on the factory EVO bike was the number one EVO machine in both races. Tom Sykes, suffering in both races from slow starts due to poor qualifying, was able in the second race to do a lot better after setup changes that let him close the gap to the front. Sykes describes Phillip Island as his worst track, and seemed happier that it was behind him than he was for the actual podium. Loris Baz, second in the title chase, changed front tyres between races and the improvement that made was visible, as he was keeping up with Guintoli's Aprilia until the race was red-flagged. 

Davide Giugliano returned to Ducati after a year, thanks to a sponsor change, on an Aprilia. In both races, he finished in fourth place, but made the Panigale look like the beast it was born to be. While the bike is still down on power, it looks like a manageable package that is likely capable of winning races. Chaz Davies struggled to get the bike to behave, managing two eigth places that would have looked respectable last year. Niccolo Canepa, on the EVO Panigale, showed moments of brilliance, but he just lost out to Salom's Kawasaki in both races.

Honda still looks to be struggling. They don't sell enough superbikes to justify the rumoured V4 homologation special and that means Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam are campaigning with the Fireblade once more. Admittedly, it's a new improved version of the CBR1000RR, but it's still a bike that's down on power, especially compared to the Kawasaki. With Suzuki suddenly getting their bike to work, Honda could have another year of head-scratching while Rea and Haslam loyally push a little harder than is safe. 

BMW no longer compete in World Superbike, and the private bikes, including the EVOs are not doing that well. Sylvain Barrier's EVO bike looked the best of the lot, with local man Glenn Allerton getting points in both races. The new MV Agusta F4, with Claudio Corti at the handlebars, beat the EBR 1190RX, but it's far too soon to judge either bike.

In World Supersport, red flags, five lap sprints and falling favourites aside, the MV Agusta is doing much better, taking a maiden victory thanks mostly to Jules Cluzel's brain-out wonder-laps. Kenan Sofuoglu and Michael Van Der Mark both had suspiciously identical-looking crashes, which points to over-cooking cold tyres, strange track conditions, odd weather or just plain bad luck, much to the belefit of Cluzel and Kev Coghlan. Yamaha's Coghlan miscounted the laps, thinking he had one more to go, but managed to not let that spoil his second place. 

New qualifying? Yes, it works. EVO class? We had a full grid thanks to this cost-cutter, so another success. New bikes? Too soon to judge MV Agusta and EBR, but they made it to the end of the races, so there's that. Seven week wait until the next race? No, that is never going to be a good idea.

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Caught a glimpse of mv engineer Brian Gillen on the telecast.He just buried his dad a couple of weeks ago
here in upstate New York.Congrats on the win in Supersport,Al must be proud.

While BMW never really got the hang of Superbikes and ran away to hide and Aprilia continues to show the enormous multinational how it's done, the real interesting comparison to me is Honda to Suzuki.

Bikes of roughly the same age, both employing well respected racers, both having struggled and looked out-classed, yet the might of HRC and Ten Kate cannot seem to make the bike competitive yet far smaller and dealer team, Suzuki as Jared says seem to have turned a corner. (Although I guess that must be qualified by the loss of an engine- something that may show for why it is faster. I tried to find comparative top speed data for 2013 vs 2014 to no avail.)

Why this is so is one of the most fascinating points in this years championship, to me at least.

yoshimura built motors are a key to Suzuki power. I would not say that after this failure that the bikes will be detuned for the rest of year tho. Anything can happen in racing, things fail. It will be studied, and with luck an improved part created.

Between Honda and Siberia is a very short straight, and its often the case to hold a gear at high rpm rather than change up then immediately back down.

Who knows if the team or yoshimura has raised the rev limit, a sure way to increase power if the whole system is designed to handle it? By the smoke spewing from fairing and exhaust, a guess to say it holed the cases, by maybe throwing a rod. Whether by rod design or piston fragmentation before, who knows?

happy for Suzuki to do well, an underrated factory.

Last year's best Suzuki top speed at PI was 314 kph. This year, they were up over 320 kph.

Honda's top speeds almost identical to last year.

Remember that last year Checa put the Panigale on pole here and ran in the top three until he took out Melandri and himself at Honda. Need to see how they do next few races to see if they've really made any improvement.

p.s. Aprilia is part of the Piaggio group, which is an enormous multinational ... ;)

The top speeds in the race might be affected by slipstreaming. If you look at qualifying between this year and last the Suzuki was roughly the same top speed wise. as was the speed difference between them and the fastest Aprilias.
I think the main difference to Suzuki this year is that they have signed two exceptional riders. Laverty is in my opinion the equal fastest guy in wsbk next to sykes, and I believe Lowes is a huge talent and possible future champion.

No doubt that slipstreaming plays a role, but at least they were able to hang in the slipstream this year. They were way quicker in the races this year than last.

But I think you are absolutely correct that Lowes and Laverty are a big factor. I think they've motivated the entire team. The whole squad looks racy. I hope it continues through the season.

I don't agree - Jared has a different style to David, and one that I really enjoy. I actually think it does flow, in a stream-of-consciousness way.

There are still some typos, some of which should have been caught by a spell check.
I like Jared's writing fine, just one more proof read before posting =)

Yes, they're all my fault for writing directly in the web interface instead of my usual text editor. I'll fix them.

As a Honda-loyalist, I must say that Rea must be fed-up by now with the lack of horsepower the CBRs have compared to the rest of the field. Electronics can only take a motorcycle so far regarding horsepower! The CBR1000rr chassis is great I must say but the engine doesn't have the legs at all! Upgrades and 'special' parts are a nice touch but a new redesigned engine with the max bore is what's called for. Time's up already Honda.

Good weekend but on the website streaming I wish the commentators would pay attention to the race. Their never shutting up would be easier to take if they were discussing on-screen action. There were multiple passes that went unremarked and it took them 1/2 a lap to realize PJ had a mechanical.

I emailed a friend that Spies should take the job as he was great when he was injured and in the booth and his response was:

First race of the season Spies would probably get electrocuted by the mike which would aggravate an old shoulder injury and have him out for a few weeks. On his comeback his seat would collapse further aggravating the shoulder injury and reinjuring his lower back, out till after the summer break. His season finally comes to an end Brno when a freak paper cut severs the tendons of both thumbs…