OUTSPOKEN AHEAD OF BARCELONA: “This year is a bit different to others… not feeling at my best”

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya hosts the second round of what is shaping up to be a vintage 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship. The Catalunya Round, always one of unpredictability and surprises – despite dominance in the past two years by Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista – is set for more shocks and surprises this year with a vast array of riders in contention for the rostrum.

Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK): “15 or 16 riders can challenge for the podium”

Leading the Championship standings, Alex Lowes’ hopes this weekend are solid top six finishes: “There’s not that much grip available so tyres are spinning a lot and with the front tyre, to make the bike turn, it’s using a lot of the tyre. There’re 15 or 16 guys that can challenge for the podium. Small details really matter during the weekend and doing the work in practice. Once the race weekend starts, different situations arise. Problems, things don’t go the way you want, things go better than you expect and it’s about managing these when the pressure is on. Pere’s been there and he can relate to a little bit more. Three top six positions, depending on how the race goes maybe we sneak a podium, at a track we know isn’t one of our best would be good for us. Sam was one of the fastest guys at the test. If the weekend starts well for him, he has to be confident. Axel’s a good guy to be around, younger than me, but it’s his fourth year in WorldSBK. He deserves a factory ride. He needs to transition but he’s doing a good job and he’ll get stronger and stronger.”

Nicolo Bulega (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati): “Australia was a dream debut weekend, but…”

A memorable weekend, under the lap record in testing in Barcelona last week and with big hopes, Nicolo Bulega is the rider in form: “I have a very good motivation because in Australia, we had an incredible first week and then we had a test here in Barcelona and my feeling with the bike was very good. I think I have a good bike and package. I am feeling good with my bike. If we continue to work like this, we can be competitive. There’s no pressure. Australia was a dream debut weekend but here is a completely different story, the asphalt is completely different and different conditions. If I can also be fast here, it’s very good for me.”

Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team): “I’ll try to win”

Cards on the table and leaving nothing in the locker, Toprak’s approach this weekend is to get BMW to the top step: “I like this circuit, just it has the problem of the grip. In testing, we find some good setups. I hope this weekend, my feeling is good, especially with the grip and that I’m fighting for the win. It’s a very difficult track for everyone. After some bad luck, BMW are working a lot; it looks like everything is fine. I asked for a new seat position, BMW immediately made it but I’ll use it at Assen. In the Superpole Race in Australia, Alvaro didn’t pass me on the straight; this is very good. In general, I’m very happy because the bike is very fast on the straight. In testing, I was worried because the pace wasn’t strong, especially on day two. Then, we found some setup, we had a good race pace in a 12-lap race simulation; all laps were in the 1’41s and really strong lap times. I hope we are in the top three or four but I’m ready to fight in the last laps. The target is to win, or the podium. Realistically, my target is the podium. It looks possible. In the race, if I’m feeling the potential for the fight, I’ll try to win because I’ve never won here.”

Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati): “I don’t feel like one of the favourites for the title”

Ruling out his ‘favourite’ label, Alvaro Bautista isn’t convinced of a third straight Catalan triple: “It’s always very, very special to race at home and Catalunya is a circuit I like a lot and in the past, I’ve done really well at. This year is a bit different to the others; my condition is not the best like in other seasons. I feel better physically but the feeling with the bike is still not 100%. On Thursday in the test, the feeling with the bike improved through the day but then on Friday, after rain overnight, it didn’t help me to get a good feeling. I struggled to get grip throughout the day and the feeling was a bit worse than Thursday. There’ll be a small change on the bike with setup to adapt to the new weight rule. I don’t feel extra pressure; the pressure I feel is from myself but not to win, get a podium but to get a good feeling with the bike. If I can ride like last year, I can be competitive but if not, we can’t fight for anything as the level of the grid is higher and it’s more difficult. Nicolo is very strong, young and has a lot of talent. He got a feeling with the WorldSBK bike very fast and he’s going very fast. At the moment, I don’t feel like one of the favourites for the title, as I’m not feeling at my best.”

Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha): “A podium is a realistic target”

Looking to be back at the pointy end and with a rostrum his aim, Jonathan Rea said: “It’s a nice track and we have an added benefit of testing here last week, so we already feel ahead of the race weekend. We got rid of some of the confidence issues I had in Australia and drew a line under some of the issues from a setup point of view. After the crash, I’m fully recovered. WorldSBK is so competitive, not just for the front positions but if you have a tough weekend, you’re going to be down the order by quite some way. We still need to improve the tyre consumption although the most positive thing is we did the race simulation and we know how the bike behaves. We know the last couple of laps here can be critical. I think a podium is a realistic target but we’re still some way off targeting a race win, but that battle for the podium is hotly contested so I expect it to be a lot of guys, but I feel like one of the guys that can fight for that.”

Xavi Vierge (Team HRC): “If the races were on the straight, we’d win!”

Ready to get down to business and fight for a strong home result, Xavi Vierge said: “I’m super excited, it’s one of my favourite races on the calendar. It’s super special, all my friends and family will be here. It’s true that the track has a lack of grip, but the straight is long and it’s one of the things that helps us. Every year, we’re able to get great results here. We had the test last week with plenty of laps to understand everything and find a good way. Our situation is that we can’t focus on a plan for me to test many different items, so this makes it difficult to extract maximum performance. Thanks to the test, we have a clear plan. A result that’ll make me happy is trying to fight for the podium but, realistically, we’re not ready yet. A great result here would be trying to fight inside the top six. If the races were on a straight, we’d win! We have a super powerful engine, our top speed is good. Unfortunately, we have problems and have to exit the corner.”

Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven): “Everything is possible”

Not ruling anything out and with one eye on a strong result, rookie Andrea Iannone previews his weekend: “We started the Championship in a good way in Australia, I’m really happy and I didn’t expect to be at this level. The test was important for us, after a long time; every day I improved a little bit and it’s important to do some kilometres. That helps me to understand a little bit more the tyres, because that’s the main difference with MotoGP™. We worked well with the team, the support from Ducati is good and I think we are on a good way. If I’m in front, I’ll try and manage the tyre, if Nicolo is in front, he’ll push every lap. After a long time, we come back to Europe, I’m happy with the support, we’ll try our best to get a good result. Everything is possible; we’ll fight”.

Andrea Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha): “Never say never… we showed our potential”

So close in Australia, will ‘Loka’ fight for a first victory in Barcelona? “I’m feeling better, after the test I felt pain in my left knee, but I improved this week. It’s important to get back on track because the feeling at and after Phillip Island was amazing. This is another track, but we can be fast. Never say never because the potential we have is quite high. We need to take an opportunity. This track is tricky at the end of the race with the tyre. I think we can stay in front during the race. At Phillip Island, we were close to fighting for victory but lost that chance. We are really close and have many races this year, so the target is to bring home a lot of podiums and, at the same time, is trying to fight for the win. I believe in it. We showed our potential. I hope it comes sooner rather than later but we will have an opportunity!”

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Source: WorldSBK.com

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