In the second week of March, Kawasaki Motors Europe (KME) exclusively hired the Almeria track in southern Spain for an official manufacturer test event welcoming the majority of its supported teams in the fiercely contested WorldSSP 300 category of WorldSBK.
Playing host to six teams and an impressive 15 riders - all of whom receive support from Kawasaki Motors Europe - the two day test was designed to give each team and its riders a chance to make ready for a nine round series that is being seen as one of the closest and most exciting on the WorldSBK schedule.
With no less than four Italian based teams at the event, the other two slots were filled by the Netherlands based MTM Kawasaki team who will field four riders in 2019 and the newly formed Provec team from Catalonia who have 2018 WorldSSP300 Champion, Ana Carrasco, as their pilot.
Enjoying good weather and favourable track conditions across the test, the teams plus riders familiarised themselves with their race machines developed within the predicted strict guidelines laid down the series promoter, Dorna. Based on the highly popular Ninja 400, that can be purchased from any Kawasaki road bike dealer, the test was targeted by
KME as an environment where the transition from road bike to racer that the teams had spent the past few months undertaking would be near completion.
Ludo VanDerWeken, Manager of the MTM team commented; "It's a good start to the season and very good to have an open track situation for full days to complete our heavy testing schedule. Plus our riders can do many laps before season starts. I'm happily surprised by the already good pace of our two rookies and their serious attitude across the test"
Provec team manager Jordi Caparros said the team used the test to look at a wide range of parameters. "This test has been so interesting. It has been a warm up test to know how to work together in the new team. The bike is same base last year but we forced Ana to ride with extra kilos and rev limits to learn to ride in tough regulation conditions. She has been working and training so hard in the last weeks and she feels so good on the bike; this is the most important feedback we got. We dedicate test to help her to get on-bike feeling and, of course, enjoy."
For Fabien Raulo, the KME coordinator for Kawasaki teams in this fast evolving race series, a chance presented itself for teams to liaise on and off track as he explained. "We wanted to see what the riders could do for sure but also we created this official test so that teams could compare notes on things such as machine set up, team structure and the overall approach to racing with the Ninja 400. In that regard it was a great success and the riders really appreciated the chance to benchmark each other in a controlled environment."
Alessio Altai of the Italian GP Project team endorsed this saying: "This was good experience for us and a good comparison with some of the best teams in WorldSSP 300. It's good to build confidence and link in the team with others. The event was well run and weather conditions were also with us so we could use this as the best way to prepare for the season ahead".
A sentiment echoed by Gianluca Ruboli of Maranga Scuderia : "This test is a good chance to evaluate our level compared to more experienced teams here with the Ninja. It's also good to be in touch with other teams. For sure it's good to get a useful feedback from riders about bike preparation. We still need to work on a base set-up but this helped us make a good step in the right direction".
For Eduardo Rovelli of the ParkinGo team and Marco Lobelli of the BWG by Puccetti squad the test was positive while they waited for final confirmation of the category regulations:
"We came here to try the 2019 configuration even though regulations are not 100% confirmed yet, giving us some challenges in preparation of the bikes" commented Rovelli. "But otherwise, we could make some good race simulations and the riders are really bonding with the team and we got some work done on the base set-up".
The sentiment was echoed by BWG by Puccetti's, Lobelli; "This test was positive. We could identify and already fix some issues. We make only 40 laps but quite efficiently and we could work on the base set-up. A good step was made here. Our next test is in Aragon. Hopefully by then we can have regulations confirmed."
For the riders this was a chance for them to blow away winter cobwebs and start the business of matching themselves to other riders joining them on a packed grid for 2019.
"It's good to be back on the bike after winter break", said Scott Deroue of the MTM team. "I felt good immediately. After a small crash early on I was back on the bike quickly and we could catch up with the busy testing schedule. I didn't push too much. Most important was to understand potential new rule influences even though they are not fully confirmed yet and to work on our base set-up".
Current World Champion in the class, Ana Carrasco declared herself: "Happy with all testing done. We worked on suspension and settings to make me feel comfortable on the bike. I think we improve again from last year".
Mika Perez of Maranga Scuderia detailed his progression during the test commenting "Overall, it was very positive test for us, we improved a lot from the first day the feeling on the bike with a big step on suspension set up. On the final day we were consistent and fast, it's encouraging for the season".
Looking towards the season start, Race Planning Manager for KME, Steve Guttridge was enthusiastic about the programme saying: "The Ninja 400 has to be the machine of choice in this class again for 2019. Ana took the title on the bike along with Perez and and Deroue claiming the other top medal positions in last season's World Championship! We created this supported teams test so that our official teams that could be present there, could focus on their machine and rider preparation as well as get to know one another and look forward to the season possibilities ahead. Despite not having the rules in place for sure the teams benefited from the extra investment and initiative from Kawasaki".