The iconic 4.445km Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit always seems to produce enthralling racing and its fair share of drama, and for the first race weekend of one of the most highly anticipated WorldSBK seasons in memory, it did not disappoint.
It seemed to have everything, from changeable weather conditions to a red flag for wildlife on the circuit and some incredible on-track battles. Despite the drama, there were podiums for Yamaha in each of the WorldSBK, and WorldSSP races, plus the manufacturer also secured pole in both classes.
Andrea Dosoli, Yamaha Motor Europe Road Racing Manager, reflects on the opening weekend of 2023: “From a racing point of view, we had a positive start to the season in front of the 46,000 spectators that came to the Island, as our entire rider line up gave solid performances. It looks like the R1 technical package we developed during the winter is another step forward, highlighted by the positive results of Andrea Locatelli and Toprak Razgatlıoğlu.
“Now, we are keen to confirm these improvements at other tracks, as we are all aware that Phillip Island has a very particular layout and location. At the same time, we know that we still need to make another step forward to keep pace with the competition, as the weekend proved to be fierce and hard-fought, and this is the next objective in our growth plan.”
Locatelli Second in Championship after Race 2 Podium
Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK Official Team’s Andrea Locatelli confirmed the improvements he made towards the end of 2022 and in the offseason by producing a strong display across all three races. Qualifying in ninth, a fourth-place finish in a wet Race 1, was followed up by fifth in the Superpole Race and a superb ride to third in Race 2, which saw him leave Phillip Island second overall in the championship standings.
“I’m pleased to see “Loka” on the podium after all his hard work since the first winter test. He has matured as a rider, with good results on track and a clear mind in the development of the R1, taking his own decisions and making his own way.”
After a difficult start for Toprak Razgatlıoğlu on Friday, Saturday saw a return to form with the 2021 World Champion qualifying on pole position and then securing his first podium finish of the season with third place in Saturday’s wet Race 1. He followed this up with another third place in the Superpole Race on Sunday before being taken out by another rider in Race 2 while in the fight for the top five.
“Talking about Toprak, I’m pleased with his reaction after some difficult times during Tuesday’s test and Friday’s free practice sessions where he struggled to find the usual feeling with his R1. Finally, in Superpole and the Superpole Race, he rediscovered his speed and effectiveness and also secured an excellent podium in the wet Race 1. Race 2 was a disappointment for all of us, but it also came about as a result of the challenging times we had at the test. We struggled to finalise the ideal settings for him to face the changing conditions of the track, and this is an aspect that we need to address together with his team and crew.”
It was an encouraging start for GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK rookies Dominique Aegerter and Remy Gardner, with both riders showing impressive pace over the weekend. The Swiss rider pulled off a sensational Superpole session to qualify on the front row, starting Race 1 from third place on the grid. The two GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK teammates secured solid points in both full-length feature races and were battling in the top six in the Superpole Race before a mistake saw them crash out together.
GMT94 Yamaha WorldSBK Team’s Lorenzo Baldassarri also had a solid WorldSBK debut, finishing each race to gain vital experience and just missing out on his first championship point.
“I’m really impressed by the performance of the GYTR GRT WorldSBK riders, which confirmed the high level of Dominique, Remy, and the whole team. Without the mistake in the Superpole Race, we could have seen them both fighting for the podium. What happened is a tough but very useful lesson to learn. The potential is there, and we must work hard to ensure we make the most of it. Lorenzo is clearly on a steep learning curve, and he is improving in every session in terms of speed, while there is still some work to do on his race pace and consistency.”
Spinelli and Manzi on the Podium in WorldSSP
The FIM Supersport World Championship got off to an exciting start, with the Ten Kate Yamaha WorldSSP Supported Team’s Stefano Manzi storming to the first pole position of the season. A re-started and shortened Race 1 in constantly changing weather created tricky conditions for the riders, with VFT Racing Yamaha’s 21-year-old Nicholas Spinelli taking advantage of an inspired tyre choice to secure his maiden podium finish in second.
In the dry Race 2, Manzi was in a three-way fight for victory when another red flag, this time shown for geese wandering onto the track, ended his chances of winning. His second-place finish, added to his sixth from Race 1, means the Italian heads into the second round of the season second in the championship standings with 30 points.
It was a solid weekend for his rookie teammate Jorge Navarro, who secured ninth and sixth in the races, as he continues his recovery from injury, while Glenn van Straalen (EAB Racing Team) made it three R6s in the top six for Race 2 as he crossed the line in fifth.
It was also a strong debut in the class for Team Yamaha Thailand, as Anupab Sarmoon and Apiwath Wongthananon secured points in both races, with the highlight being Sarmoon’s excellent ride to eighth in Race 1.
“First of all, I’m delighted to see the Yamaha R6 proving its competitiveness in just the second year since the introduction of the Next Generation regulations to WorldSSP. All the Yamaha-supported teams have had positive peaks of performances over the weekend in various sessions, meaning that our work during the winter has been fruitful.
“At the same time, I think it will be beneficial to all to make an honest assessment of this first WorldSSP weekend, to identify whether the direction taken fits with the shared philosophy of WorldSSP being a platform where riders can develop and grow, rather than being only about chasing outright performance with the bikes.
“Stefano Manzi was on fire this weekend in Australia, but he was also unlucky. He showed outstanding potential in all sessions but wasn’t able to get the results he deserved due to a tricky tyre choice in Race 1 and the red flag in Race 2. Unfortunately, his teammate Jorge Navarro is still not fully fit after the considerable injury he suffered last year.
“Glenn van Straalen confirmed his pace and potential from last year, which is impressive considering that he was forced to miss the winter tests completely, while Nicholas Spinelli has been the real surprise of the class over the weekend, shining in both wet and dry conditions. His performance was even more remarkable considering that this was a triple first experience for him: his first time racing a Yamaha, his first time racing a 600cc bike and his first time racing at Phillip Island.”