CLASS OF HIS OWN: can Bautista make more magic at Phillip Island on Saturday?

Friday, 24 February 2023 06:08 GMT

With vitality in abundance, Alvaro Bautista may well be making Phillip Island his own lion’s den as he sets a frenetic pace in Australia

It was a day one with the #1 to remember for Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati), as he bowled the opposition over in his quest to hit them for six and to his win tally of five on ‘The Island’. The reigning World Champion got to work straight away and after setting more laps than anyone else, is one of the pre-race favourites as he aims to start his Championship defence in the best possible way.

Free Practice 1 welcomed Bautista to the track and was instantly down to times and race pace that nobody else was able to match. In Free Practice 2, it was more of the same as he was well into the 1’31s before going down to a 1’30.623 and being one of just four riders inside the top ten to improve his time in the afternoon – the other three were Ducatis: his teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi, top Independent Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven) in P7 and WorldSBK rookie Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) in P9. Bautista started FP2 with a 13-lap run with all laps under a 1’32.

Speaking at the conclusion of the day, Bautista was joyous: “I’m happy with today because I had a good feeling with the bike, similar to the tests but today track conditions were a bit different, especially in the afternoon. It was slippery and you had to be very careful because the tyres were sliding everywhere so you had to adapt to the track conditions. I understood the situation of the track and I could adapt my style to these conditions and, for sure, I had fun even if the track was not in perfect condition. I’m happy because the bike worked well and like in the test. It has been a positive part to the season.”

Bautista has plenty of good history at Phillip Island throughout the entirety of his racing career; in 2003, he achieved his first World Championship top five in the 125cc World Championship with fourth, whilst his Grand Prix win there in 2006 gave him his first World Championship title. Three top six finishes in the first four years of his MotoGP™ class career at Phillip Island came soon, before a mighty performance in 2018 earned him fourth, stepping in for the injured Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Ducati team and in the podium battle throughout.

In WorldSBK, the magic continued with an astonishing debut back in 2019, when he won all three races – his Race 1 victory by 14.983s over Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) remains the biggest dry-race winning margin at the famed Australian venue. In 2020, starting his two-year tenure at Honda, Bautista came through from 16th on the grid in both Race 1 and Race 2 to finish a stunning sixth, with the new Honda CBR1000RR-R making its debut. In 2022 and back with Ducati and with the title wrapped up, he pulled a blinding gamble for the Tissot Superpole Race. Having opted for slick tyres on damp but drying circuit, he came from as far down as 16th to take victory, before making five Phillip Island wins in Race 2.

Reacting to whether or not he’s the favourite for the weekend, Bautista shrugged it off: “For sure, in the afternoon, we did a good pace but the conditions we found today will be different to tomorrow and Sunday. So, I think today is not valid to see how the other riders and with such different conditions are. Today, I felt strong but, in any case, I think many riders went quite fast in the conditions. I don’t feel like the favourite, I’m enjoying the bike and we’re doing a good job. We have to take the maximum in all conditions and when the track is difficult.”

Speaking about race strategy in his media debrief, Bautista said: “A this circuit, you have a big difference and you’re alone, or it is difficult to go alone. In the first half of the race, it’s easy to follow riders. I remember in the test, Jonathan followed me and set the same times as me. Toprak was struggling in the 1’31s and did two laps behind me and was in the 1’30s. I don’t expect that anyone will go alone, especially in the first half of the race. Then, tyres will be important!”

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