Reigning WorldSBK Champion Alvaro Bautista was back on top of the times as winter testing concluded at Portimao on Wednesday.
With his best 1’39.035 effort easily under the current lap record at the Algarve International Circuit, the Aruba.it rider had rapid company. Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea was just 0.009s behind his rival with fellow Ducati rider Michael Rinaldi a further tenth back, while Yamaha’s Toprak Razgatlioglu also broke the previous margin on 1’39.4 pace.
Tuesday’s times had seen the same top three with just the Ducatis reversed, a consistency that bodes well for the Spaniards title defence.
“At the end, winter test you can see many good lap times but at the end for us the important thing is the feeling with the bike, the work we did with the bike,” Bautista said of his pre-season preparation. “Today I felt quite good, we try many things. We found something that can help in the future, we found a bit more grip on the maximum angle on the rear so I'm happy for that. Maybe the difference is not to big but I felt, so I'm happy with this two day test.
“I didn't have expectation before the winter test started because we had a new bike so I didn't want to make some expectation. I just want to try and let's see the potential. Now I'm happy because the new Ducati allowed me to be more precise, especially on the engine side, for the character of the engine is more smooth. So yeah, I'm happy what I found in the new bike and let's see if we can use in the races as well.
“It's more from the apex to the exit, especially the first few metres of the exit of the corner,” he continued, when pressed on how the changes translate to his performance. “Also today we try a different setup in the swingarm and we found a bit more initial grip so it helped me to have some speed exiting from the corner, better speed at the beginning of the exit of the corner, maybe the difference is not too big but I feel is a positive point today.
“Let's see what happens when the races start, because as I said, always in winter test you cannot see the true [potential]. So we have to keep focused on our work. We have another test in Australia before the first race but there will be just work for the race weekend, more than set up of the bike. For sure I look forward because tests are okay, you enjoy the bike but at the end I miss the race, I miss the battles. So, I look forward to start the season.”
While the tests proved positive, it wasn’t all plain sailing at Portimao.
“Yes, I crashed,” Bautista admitted of his second fall of the outing. “Maybe I found the limit in that corner, turn seven. Yeah, I was too fast but it's better to find the limits in the winter test! Yesterday in turn five was nothing but here was more serious but fortunately I'm okay.”
“At the end, we have a good base on the bike,” he continued. So we try just to make some small adjustment or fine tuning but you know, when you are in a level it's difficult to make a big improvement. It's just a question of small details. I think our base bike is quite okay. It's working well in Jerez and here so I'm happy with that.
“For sure, I know much better the bike, because last year was my first year after comeback with Ducati so now I have more confidence and I know much better all the changes we do in the bike - if it's better or not. I have more confidence on the bike and more confidence in myself. I just want to start the season because tests are okay, but at the end I miss the race battles and the race weekend but I think we have a good set up."
While the top four remained tight at the top of the times, that was not the case on track, with the 38-year-old opting to concentrate on himself than check out his rivals around the rollercoaster.
“No, I don't care because I focus on myself. I found some slower riders than me but no Jonathan, no Toprak and no Michael. So I hope to see them in the races, fighting with them.
As the first round of the season approaches later this month, does the title-holder have any expectations for Australia?
No, I just go there, try to get the good feedback on the test before the race and then let's see,” Bautista admitted. “Philip Island is not easy track. So I'm looking forward to go there and try to have the same feeling I had during test in Jerez and here and if the feeling is like here, I think my target is to enjoy the race. Without result, just the result is a consequence. We go there just to do the best and try to have fun on the weekend.”