American Ben Spies was the king of AMA Superbike, but can the Texan conquer the World Superbike realm?
2009 Yamaha WSB riders Ben Spies and Tom Sykes enjoyed a successful two day test at Portimao with their new team. The riders used the time to develop both their relationships with their new team and also to make a start on the development of the all-new 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 race bike.
Day one of testing was spent mostly riding the 2008 WSB machines, giving both riders the opportunity to learn the highly technical Portimao circuit which opened for the first time last weekend for the last round of the 2008 World Superbike Championship.
Day two saw the riders lapping on the all-new for 2009 Yamaha WSB R1. The new 998cc bike, featuring a high tech powerplant closely linked to the M1 MOTOGP bike, is currently at the very beginning of its development for the 2009 WSB season and is still relatively close to production specifications. However with the 2009 production R1 crossplane crankshaft engine and a unique uneven firing order giving linear torque and greater traction rider Ben Spies was able to come within two tenths of the race lap record set by Troy Bayliss during the inaugural race weekend two days previously. In a validation of the team’s belief in the potential of the new bike both riders put in fast lap times, Ben Spies lapping consistently in the low 1.44s on the second day.
The Yamaha WSB team now move on to South Africa for the second test to take the next steps in the development of the bike.
So far the team’s minor modifications to the standard bike include a modified cam-shaft, an enlarged radiator for extra cooling and the addition of an oil cooler. The new bike has no rear sub-frame but incorporates a strengthened frame. The exhaust is unique, and was developed in partnership with Akrapovic. The standard fuel tank has also been replaced with an aluminium tank with increased capacity. The bike features the latest Magneti Marelli electronic systems. The new swing arm is also developed purely for the WSB race bike based on knowledge taken from the 2008 racing season.
Ben Spies (1’43.9)
“The whole Superbike weekend has been great for me. Having my own crew chief here from the US joining the team is good, he really understands me and it’s great to see him working well with the Yamaha Motor Italia Technical Chief Silvano Galbusera. Getting out on Nori’s bike we made a couple of changes and got going, it answered a lot of questions for me on the different tyre manufacturer and riding new circuits. The 2009 bike is at the beginning of its development, but for where it’s at now compared to where we will be when we line up at Philip Island it’s hugely exciting. The team worked really hard on the bike this weekend and it’s just going to get better and better. I’m really looking forward to next year.”
Tom Sykes (1’44.5)
“For me it’s been a very good test. Having done two days I now feel fully part of the team. It was quite difficult arriving on Tuesday morning for the 1st day of the test, facing a new bike, a new circuit, and a new team. It was important to me to get it right from the start. We are developing well together and we have a good understanding. I was very happy with my time on the 2008 bike, and happy with a good race pace. For the 2009 bike, considering it’s at a very early stage of development, I think it’s a fantastic package. The feeling coming out of the corner is unbelievably smooth, the power is so controllable, the whole bike remains incredibly stable. There is still lots to be done but the outcome is already very good. All in all it was a great weekend for me, I was really happy to get started and learning, getting on with the new team and feeling part of it.”
Yamaha Motor Italia Team Manager Massimo Meregalli said, “As a first test, I think it went very well. We didn’t have any problems and both riders did a very good job. The test gave us a very good feeling because the bike is very good now and we know how we can improve it even more, there is still a big gap to where we can get to, so we are just very happy. Everything went very well with the riders and the team, there’s no better way to end a test for us, we are very excited about the next stage.”