Testing in Spain remains as popular as ever within the upper echelons of British motorcycle racing, with the majority of teams heading for the more temperature climate offered by Spanish circuits during the late winter months. For the first time since Covid hit back in 2020, this season sees the Bennetts British Superbike Championship (BSB) head to sunnier climes for the opening official test of the season, this time at Circuito de Navarra.
When the 13-year-old circuit was acquired by Jonathan Palmer’s Motorsport Vision group (MSV) at the tail end of 2022, it was obvious to all that BSB would find itself at the 2.4 mile long track in some official capacity during the year, with MSV acting as the Championship’s Promoter. With the majority of the teams making the journey, and as reigning Teams’ Champions, it was something we would not be missing out on.
Before Navarra, the team made the decision to spend 3 days at the renowned Circuito de Andalucía, based on the south-eastern tip of the country, just a few miles inland. Whilst not an official test, this would prove a valuable opportunity for the team to get back into the metaphorical groove, with new boy Ryan Vickers managing to score some serious seat time during the time at circuit. We were to be joined by a number of other teams, and no (official) time keeping was available – this was purely a bedding in exercise, and gave us the opportunity to test new components & gather some data on performance benefits.
With information hot in the team’s collective mind, we made the almost 900km journey north to the stunning scenery of Navarra, with the circuit just a few km from the beautiful city of Pamplona. There’d be no running with bulls for the team though – this was the time to get serious.
The circuit is, as you’d expect from the team behind MSV, stunning. With a first corner described as “like no other in the world” by a number of high profile riders & car racers, it’s a circuit that brooks no quarter, as discovered by Ryan Vickers on the first day, when running a kerb late-morning caused an off that would necessitate a front end rebuild by the team’s mechanics. Vickers would be back out by early afternoon, however, and go on to post the fourth fastest time of the day, despite wrestling with an injured wrist & knee. This would lead to him sitting out the entirety of Sunday, with swelling in his knee making him unable to ride safely.
Despite Ryan’s injury, both Saturday & Sunday proved incredibly fruitful for the team, with Kyle Ryde the only rider to break into the 1:38s on the first day, with a super-fast 1:37.818 posted 15-minutes from close-of-play on the second day. This saw him end the day as the only rider to crack the elusive 1:38 barrier, just 0.753 of a second off the outright World Superbike (WSBK) lap record, set by former BSB champ & WSBK runner-up Scott Redding back in 2021.
Day 3 would bring perfect conditions, with Kyle heading out into an ambient air temperature of 15ºc, going purple on the timings screens in sector two of his out lap. Within 2 laps he was posting well into the 1:38s, with a 1:37.586 coming just an hour into the session, the fastest time of the entire event, just under a second up the road from the second fastest rider. What makes it all the more impressive is that he hit a pigeon at the fastest point of the circuit, with the data showing an impact speed of 171mph!
With all testing procedures completed, and both rider & bike unscathed (high-speed bird strikes excluded), as well as 35mph winds predicted for the afternoon, the team made the decision that Kyle would sit out the remainder of the day. With a finishing time just half a second slower than the WSBK lap record, without the significant rider aids employed by teams in the global series, both rider & team could leave the circuit safe in the knowledge that they were going into the year prepared for whatever the championship could throw at them.
It wasn’t just the Superbike boys that would take to the track during the weekend, though, with former Isle of Man TT (TT) winner James Hiller joining the team at both events to test the Yamaha R1 he’ll be racing the entire Pirelli National Superstock 1000 season on. He’d be joined by new boy Aaron Daykin, who was poised to get some laps under his belt on OMG’s Yamaha R6, which he’ll be campaigning in the 2023 Pirelli National Junior Superstock 600 series.
Both riders would spend as much time in the seat as possible, Hillier’s team experimenting with a number of setups to find the sweet spot on the R1, analysing data and drawing on the racer’s considerable road-racing experience, ending all 3 days as the 2nd fastest bike in class.
The weekend would prove useful for Daykin, who joins the team with just one season of racing under his belt, in which he scored a podium at almost every race. For him, this was mostly an exercise in getting to know the bike, the team, and the championship. During the first day, he would wipe an astonishing 6 seconds off his average lap time, his team experimenting with gearing and other setups as he became more comfortable with the bike during Day 2. By the end of Day 3 he’d slashed an astonishing 7.5 seconds off his initial lap times, which means he heads into the next test feeling positive.
The team’s next outing will be at the Official BSB test at Donington Park, on the 25 & 26th of this month, in less than two weeks’ time.
Kyle Ryde – “For me it’s been a great week, and it’s felt great to get back on the bike again. The weather’s been awesome, and the bike feels spot on, the team have done a great job. We’ve done a lot of work that we wanted to do, which has given us some interesting ideas to take back to the UK for the next tests in a couple of weeks, and the consistent weather has meant we could test a number of things back-to-back that we wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do. Topping the day off today with a good lap time was the icing on the cake, and I’m feeling really confident and positive for Donington.”
Ryan Vickers – “Unfortunately I had a little crash on the first day, although I ended up able to ride the afternoon after the team lowered by foot peg on one side due to injuring my knee, which was fine. Unfortunately I woke up the next morning, and even though I’d been keeping it on ice to reduce swelling, it had just swollen up too much and I was unable to get it to go down enough to ride. But it is what it is – I’m in a good place with the bike & the team. I was really happy when I was out though, as we were easily in the Top 5 and I couldn’t even ride the bike properly on the first day, and the test at Andalucía was really positive, so I’m feeling good for Donington and the year ahead.”
James Hillier – “I feel like it’s definitely been a productive week. A lot of the first few days were spent finding my rhythm and reminding myself of a few things after the winter, which is always the case for me pre-season. We’ve definitely made headway with the bike, and I’ve learnt a lot about it through experimentation and although we haven’t posted any outright super-fast lap times, the potential is absolutely there. I’m just keen to get to Round One now – we’ve got the momentum and we’re definitely heading in the right direction as we get closer to the season starting.”
Aaron Daykin – “It’s my first test of this type, and I feel like it’s gone well. Throughout the weekend I’ve improved my times every session, and we’ve been concentrating on working on individual sections of the circuit rather than looking at an outright lap time. Having said that, I’ve taken more than 7 seconds off my initial lap times, which I’m really happy with. It’s been great to get to know the team properly, and I’m feeling really confident as we head towards the first round. I know I’m not going to set the world on fire out of the box, but I’m determined to work hard through the season and achieve my personal goals.”