It has been a short winter for WorldSBK, but a long one in terms of post-2022 season commitments and celebrations for reigning World Champion Alvaro Bautista and his Aruba.it Ducati team.
After a multi-day joint celebration of winning both MotoGP and WorldSBK championships in 2022 - and a simultaneous joint team launch - in the exclusive Madonna di Campignoni ski resorts in Trentino, North East Italy - Bautista and his teammate Micheal Rinaldi made a quick turnaround to south west Spain for two days of testing at Jerez between 25-26 January.
On a revised Ducati Panigale V4R Bautista had a crash early in the first day that he blamed on a too slow and off-line Ana Carrasco - the aftermath of which continues to rumble. He recovered and went on to set a higher total of laps than any of his numerous 2023 WorldSBK and WorldSSP colleagues - 174. He was third fastest overall, very close behind Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea.
With a second test scheduled this week at Portimao on 31st January and 1st February, Bautista reflected on his first outing of the year. “Especially this afternoon, with the wind, you have to understand which direction the wind was pushing,” the Spaniard said at the close of play at Jerez. "There were some places where you had to change the way you rode. Some corners it pushed you out and some corners it pushed you in, so you had to understand that. In cold conditions, normally I struggle a little bit more, but today I think I had the best feeling ever in the winter tests. I never had this quite good feeling in these conditions. Right now I am happy with the feeling I have on the bike. I would prefer it to be hot, but it is a winter test.”
Bautista also used a new SCQ tyre and said, “I tried both compounds, and they are very similar. With this condition it was very difficult to understand because that kind of tyre does not work really well in these conditions. They are similar, and I did more or less the same lap times. I did around five laps on them both. The times were really close.”
Other riders found more improvements in pace than Bautista when using the Qs, to which he said, “Maybe because they tried like it was a race qualification. I always try in the winter tests to understand how much I can push or how good the tyre is or not. I am working, so if with the SC0, for example, I am doing 90 per cent, then with the Q I am doing 90 per cent. The improvement is maybe just because the tyre allows me to go a bit faster. Maybe some other riders make 90 per cent on an SC0 and make 110 per cent on the Q. I always say winter tests are winter tests, and when the races are coming it seems like the winter tests everybody is very close, but in reality when the races are coming there is a big difference. I am focusing on myself to understand. It is more important the feeling on the bike in these conditions.”
“Here it was important to get back to have a good feeling with the bike. I am really happy because from the first lap I felt so good.”
Bautista had a different engine character, a new exhaust and some other items that are new for 2023, but it seems that there are more things to come soon. “We tried here some things but we have Portimao also for the set-up area,” he explained. “Basically the bike is very similar to last year. The base is good so now in Portimao we will try some ideas we had last year that we did not want to try in the season. So it was better to have a good feeling with the bike first and then we try (them).
“Ducati made a good improvement with the engine character. It helps me in general. It seems like from the bottom there is more smooth power, and it is more linear. It helps me to make the corner more in an angle, with less corner speed and more acceleration. It’s a bit easier to ride like this. Over these two days I had to understand and adapt my style to this kind of engine. In the frame side, it is basically the same, but I think this is the Ducati character. When I speak to the riders in MotoGP they have exactly the same problem as me. This is the Ducati character and it is difficult to be sure, but for the engine they help me a lot and I can be a lot more precise on the riding. I feel more safe and more consistent. They made good improvements, we need to improve in other areas, but I think it is more difficult.”
“I was quite comfortable riding in 1’39.0-39.1 for many laps and on a tyre with almost 20 laps on it,” Bautista said of his overall race pace at Jerez. "I am happy with my pace and feeling.”