Strong Start for Lowes on Opening Day in Argentina
The Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team's Alex Lowes enjoyed a positive start to the first ever WorldSBK weekend in Argentina. Fourth place on the timesheet at the end of the opening day at the all-new San Juan Villicum circuit means the 28-year-old gains automatic entry to Superpole 2 tomorrow. As the chequered flag was unfurled to bring this afternoon's final free practice session to a close Michael van der Mark was also inside the top ten, but was then relegated to 11th position when his fastest lap was discounted due to him marginally exceeding the track limits.
With the circuit only recently completed and this weekend's race the first major event to be held at the new facility, track conditions changed considerably for each of today's three free practice sessions, as the riders in all classes cleaned the track of the dirt deposited on the surface during the construction process.
This meant that both riders and crews had to adapt to rapidly changing conditions, with grip increasing lap-by-lap as a clean line started to form around the 11 left and 8 right-hand corners that make up the 2.276km El Villicum circuit.
The changing conditions proved no obstacle for Lowes, who was fast and consistent in every session and rounded out his day by posting the fourth fastest time in the third and final free practice, despite some issues with the newly laid track surface breaking up in a number of turns. The Pata Yamaha rider ended the session with a fast and consistent race simulation and is confident of further improvements tomorrow when the track is expected to offer up increased grip as more rubber is laid down.
Van der Mark also enjoyed a solid start to the weekend, although the progress he made throughout the day wasn't truly reflected on the timesheet. The 25-year-old was initially credited with ninth place at the end of today's third free practice session, but will now have to fight his way through Superpole 1 tomorrow after having his fastest lap deleted due to a track limits infraction at turn nine.
The two Pata Yamaha riders declared themselves extremely impressed with the layout of the San Juan Villicum circuit, but they also expressed concerns about the track surface and the amount of debris that was being thrown up when following other riders.
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - P4 - 1:40.255
"I've been quick in every session today, which is always a good way to start any race weekend. But the track is brand new and that means it's evolving, with times improving by 1.5 to 2 seconds every session today. It makes it hard for the guys in the team, who have to make changes to the bike to compensate for the track conditions, but we did a good job today. I was consistent over the long run and my one-off lap time is also good, so we're in a pretty strong position at the end of the first day. Now we just need to keep focused, work on the areas where we struggled a bit today and, hopefully, reap the rewards tomorrow in the race. The track had started to break up a bit in places between the first and second session today, with a lot of small stones on the surface, but it didn't seem to get any worse during the final session, so maybe it will be okay for tomorrow."
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - P11 - 1:40.959
"It wasn't an easy day because the conditions were different for every session, with the track getting better as it cleaned up and more rubber went down. This made it difficult to start working on the set-up of the bike ready for the race, because you'd make changes to suit the track but then the track would improve and you'd have to start again. The track surface was also an issue, as it looks like it's starting to break up in some places, which means you get hit with a lot of debris when you're behind other riders. At the moment there's only really one clean line, so you can't move out to the side to avoid the debris either. For the last session we made some pretty big changes to the bike, which were really positive and allowed me to improve almost every lap, so we're definitely heading in the right direction. Right at the end we put in a new set of tyres and my pace was good, but then I was a little unlucky to get my fastest lap cancelled for exceeding the track limits. It's a shame because the time was good enough to put me straight into Superpole 2 but, anyway, I have a good feeling and I'm sure tomorrow the track will be different again, so let's see what FP4 brings."
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team - Team Principal
"It's been an interesting challenge for all the teams to understand the best way to get their respective machines around this new Argentinian track and it's a credit to everyone involved in the championship that the top 14 riders are covered by just over one second. For Pata Yamaha Alex has had a very solid day, fast in all the sessions, a very positive 15-lap long run in FP3 and a good understanding of how and where we can improve further. Michael is also performing well but, unfortunately, his best lap at the end of FP3 was deleted when he ran fractionally wide at turn nine onto the green paint, which meant he missed out on the top ten by less than a tenth of a second. Going into Superpole 1 is not always a bad thing and, in the past, has worked quite well for Michael, so we're positive going into Saturday that both our riders can perform strongly with their R1 machines."