Here’s a fun fact: Did you know, water drains counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere, whereas it swirls clockwise in the north?
If you didn’t, then I’ll make like QI host Sandi Toksvig and explain that this is predominantly due to the earth’s rotational pull. Since this is Bikesportnews.com and not a scientific journal, I’ll skip the physics tutorial…
Point is, this ‘quite interesting’ phenomenon sums up the opening round of the 2023 WorldSBK Championship opener at Phillip Island, which at times felt a touch back-to-front.
As ever, the curtain-raising event played out with pent-up, keen-to-impress riders racing like over-stimulated children piling back into school after the summer break.
For Jonathan Rea - in fact, Kawasaki on the whole - and Toprak Razgatlioglu though, they come away from Australia knowing there is some homework ahead if there is any chance for them to dethrone ‘head boy’ Alvaro Bautista.
A blip or a case of diminishing returns for Kawasaki?
The rhetoric from Rea coming into the new season had been one of caution.
As for why, well, according to Rea at the end of the weekend, Kawasaki ‘didn’t nail the set-up’. This is unfamiliar territory for Rea, a rider whose diligent hours in testing and the ZX-10RR’s well proven base has made it such a consistently strong contender.
Indeed, whereas Rea came into the 2022 season knowing a bit of self-development to sharpen the elbows in battle was a solution to tackle a gnarly rival like Razgatlioglu, there are limits to what he can do personally to repel the Ducati-branded missiles on the straight and narrow… that is unless he is willing to sacrifice a couple of his limbs to lighten the load.
Phillip Island does flatter to deceive at times and forthcoming visits to more technical circuits will likely level things up a bit, but as Rea himself says, Kawasaki is working in ‘marginal gains’ with the ZX-10RR.
The outcome was Rea looking so far at sea at times in Australia that he might as well have been bobbing around in the South Pacific.
If anything, it looked just as choppy in the heat of battle as rivals launched waves of attacks from all angles, Rea’s smooth, looping entries and quick pick-ups on the exit - effective against familiar foes Bautista and Razgatlioglu - getting little respect from the riders sensing blood around him.
Bike or not though, Rea simply lacked pace in Australia. He couldn’t break away from the pack in Race 2 - eventually fading to eighth - while even after being levered out of the way by Dominique Aegerter, he didn’t exactly look out of position once there.
Razgatlioglu takes rough with smooth
Over in the blue corner though, Razgatlioglu comes away from Australia with even fewer points than Rea.
As a rider whose flamboyant style on a race bike usually goes a long way to negating compromises in the Yamaha R1 package, despite shining in qualifying en route to pole position, Razgatlioglu rather ended up standing out by not really standing out come the races.
While events back home in Turkey - currently reeling from a major earthquake - might go some way to explaining his docile weekend, it was still a surprise to see Razgatlioglu throwing the fewest shapes in his efforts to break out of the busy chasing pack in both the Superpole Race and Race 2.
Perhaps a sign that he is lacking some confidence on the latest Yamaha, it might also represent a more matured, flowing riding style that - at other venues - could be his answer to Bautista’s questions.
Time will tell…
Oh, and Ducati were dominant
Regardless of whether Kawasaki and Yamaha have dropped some of their balls coming into the season, it in no way diminishes just how strong Ducati looked in Australia.
Sure, Bautista’s hat-trick of wins wasn’t necessarily surprising, yet somehow the manner of them exceeded expectations.
Defending champion though he may be, Bautista notably comes into 2023 with the swagger of 2019 - when he romped to a triple win on his debut - except this time without the hint of MotoGP-flavoured arrogance.
Added to the surefootedness of his 2022 success and Ducati’s own step forward, then it’s a potent combination that Bautista’s rivals - even if they didn’t expect it entirely - certainly feared coming to Australia.
Delve into the data and Bautista’s speed was metronomically superior lap-after-lap, both during the testing sessions and the race weekend.
Even without Kawasaki and Yamaha fumbling this weekend, Ducati’s advantage appears big enough to quell any circuit-specific swings back towards its rivals; the second round - in just a few days - at the Mandalika Circuit in Indonesia will reveal more.
But hey, perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong, when I could have summed up a weekend of really rather excellent, competitive action in one simple sentence… damn, it’s great to be back racing once again!