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Final tests for World Superbike set up interesting opener

The final set of World Superbike tests last week, prior to the first race this coming weekend, had a couple of nasty accidents and some surprises in the top times. First, as noted in our previous story about Troy Bayliss returning to Ducati for the weekend, regular rider Davide Giugliano is out with cracks to two vertebrae, and is also likely to miss the second event a month from now at the new Chang International circuit in Thailand.

Another rider suffering a nasty crash was Randy DePuniet, although the French rider, new partner to Alex Lowes on the Voltcom Suzuki team, says he’ll be able to race. Championship winner Sylvain Guintoli and runner-up Tom Sykes also crashed, but without injury. It was Guintoli’s first outing on his new Pata Honda superbike, while Sykes was refining his Kawasaki – both were surprised by their crashes, but no harm, no foul.

The top 10 featured some new (and newish) names, as Alex Lowes topped the sheets in most sessions on his Voltcom Suzuki, certainly the oldest and least-developed bike (at least from the factory perspective) on the grid. He was well up on his injured team-mate DePuniet, who struggled to make the top 20.

Also in the top two or three during the test was Irish ace Jonathon Rea, who jumped from Honda after nine years to join Sykes on the Kawasaki squad. He’s obviously adapted well, but even more impressive adaptation came from WSB rookie Jordi Torres who jumped from Moto 2 to join Leon Haslam on a Red Devils Aprilia and was in the top three or four during most of the test. Almost as impressive was David Salom, who raced the lower-spec Evo machines for Kawasaki last year but has immediately looked comfortable on his new superbike, easily in the top 10.

Chaz Davies (returning for Ducati) and Leon Haslam (new for Aprilia) were also right up to speed in the top 10, just ahead of three other newcomers – Nico Terol is another Moto 2 veteran on a Ducati for his first year in WSB, Michael van der Mark continues with Pata Honda but on a superbike for the first time, and Nicolo Canepa, another former Evo-class rider, has done the astonishing trick of dragging the Hero-backed EBR (Erik Buell Racing) machine into the top 10.

With this mix of veterans and new riders the first race, at the iconic Phillip Island track near Melbourne, Australia, should be superb. And mix in three-time champion Troy Bayliss – you never know. As one veteran race-watcher put it, “Bayliss + factory bike + nothing to lose = mayhem!”

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