It’s not often that seasoned pundit and former Superbike star James Whitham gushes with enthusiasm but 'absolutely brilliant' was his description of the World Superbike season opener at Aragon in his post race chat with bikesportnews.
"Everything about it was great,” he enthused. ”We knew it was going to be the Toprak/Jonathan show again and we’d suspected after what had been happening in pre-season testing that Bautista, at least on some circuits, would be very, very quick and it worked out really well with Bautista getting the best of it.”
Never afraid to mix it himself, Whitham was particularly impressed with Jonathan Rea’s determination: ”Jonathan was prepared to roll his sleeves up and while Aragon has never been a Yamaha circuit they came away with, at least, something to smile about - three podiums against one last year.
"It bodes really well for the championship because Bautista didn’t win by ten seconds or 14 seconds which he did in on Ducati in 2019 but by two or three seconds and actually got beaten by Jonathan who managed to get a win by passing him, rattling him and holding him up in places where the Ducati was going to be quick.
“I think it was a great start for Superbikes and one of the things I was pleased about was that the new formula Supersport looks like it’s finding the basis for an exciting next couple of years.
"These new balancing rules with the 800, the 765 triples and the 955 twins said that Scott Smart has done a fantastic job for a first attempt. The rules will be tweaked and one they get these triples and twins competing with the existing fours, the Kawasakis and the Yamahas, we are going to see a cracking championship.
"Also worth mentioning are the displaced Moto2 and MotoGP riders such as Bulega, Baldassarri, Manzi and Aegerter. They are cracking riders and an asset to the championship. I think overall everybody’s come away with a really optimistic feel.”
BSN: On this display it can be said that WorldSBK is just as exciting, if not better, than MotoGP and when you have Bautista’s Ducati doing 330kph, that is one quick motorbike.”
Whitham: Yes indeed but bear in mind that this is a long straight and for me this is not about top speed. Jonathan looks like he has made some improvements to the front end of that Kawasaki and looks a lot happier pushing it to the limit than he ever did last year. Toprak had some issues but as I said it has never been a Yamaha circuit because of the layout. But all in all are have got something to look forward to.
BSN: Your verdict is not often wrong and you’re right again but you didn’t speak that highly last week of Rinaldi and he went very well.
Whitham: Yes, Rinaldi’s on the pace, the bike is very good but it seems to me he just isn’t in a position either mentally or where the bike is to scrap to the end. He had the pace to finish second three times at Aragon it’s just that Jonathan and Toprak were quite prepared to get their elbows out and muscle through to get the podiums and deny Rinaldi of them.
He would come away disappointed and fairly angry I would think but also optimistic about the fact that he was quick and will be competitive at other circuits.
BSN: And what about Alex Lowes? He fell off in the first race but seemed to do well in the second.
Whitham: I honestly feel a little bit sorry for Alex because I think he’s probably the benchmark for the Kawasaki, riding quite well and possibly not his best circuit. He would probably be a little bit disappointed but not as disappointed as Scott Redding who really seemed to struggle on the BM.
You don’t want anybody to struggle and I certainly don’t because he is genuinely top three and showed that last year. But he obviously hasn’t gelled with the bike, the team were scratching their heads and you don’t like to see a professional team like that struggling so they have work to do.
BSN: What do you make of that. Other BMW riders were going better than Scott and, quite frankly, there is something very odd about it.
Whitham: I think Mikhalchik is the benchmark for that bike at the moment because he has ridden that bike quite a lot. And with Baz going really well, and Laverty, it made Scott’s efforts and troubles look worse then they probably are. He’s got to work with the team, stay focused and get through whatever problems they have got.