World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea setting bar high for rivals in 2017
Reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and series returnee Eugene Laverty will be in action at Phillip Island today and tomorrow in the final pre-season tests, prior to the opening round of the 2017 season this coming weekend at the same Australian venue.
Double world champion Rea has topped pretty much every pre-season test, and will start the year as a strong title favourite with his factory Kawasaki Racing Team, ably supported by team-mate and 2013 WSB champ Tom Sykes.
But despite Laverty and his all-new UK based Milwaukee Aprilia team having to play catch-up on the leading contenders at both Kawasaki and Ducati, the Toome rider has tasted victory at Phillip Island on his last two visits - 2013 and 2014 - aboard Aprilia and Suzuki machinery, and should not be discounted.
Fans all love pre-season hype, but this final test at Phillip Island, before things get real on Saturday with race one, is the clearest indication as to which teams and riders will be challenging for the victories down under.
Phillip Island was never a great circuit for Rea during his time with Honda, but since joining Kawasaki in 2015, the Manx based Ulsterman has been a prolific force at all thirteen tracks on the season-long calendar, and will enter into round one, looking to set his stall out for the year ahead.
Speaking from his base in Phillip Island, Rea explained the complexity of the southern hemisphere circuit, by stating: "Phillip Island presents a different challenge from the other tracks we have been testing at in the winter.
"Whist we have defined our base package now, and I feel quite comfortable, we really need to fine-tune the bike for this circuit to understand what the track demands. And we must pay attention to the weather, because it looks like the forecast is a little unpredictable.
"The wind direction at Phillip Island is also important for set-up. We basically need to get up to speed and try not to get too excited, because it is important at these tests to come away strong and healthy."
World Superbike race one of 2017 takes place on Saturday February 25 at 3am UK time following Superpole (1.30am). Race two, which will see the all-new rules and grid positions implemented for the very first time, takes place on Sunday February 26 (4am).
Closer to home, the organising North Armagh Club is delighted to confirm that entries are rolling in consistently for the 57th Around A Pound Tandragee 100, that is set to take place in just eight weeks' time, on April 21-22.
To raise much needed funds, the club has made the reluctant decision to increase the cost of the event programme to £15. This has already been well received by fans on social media, who in recent weeks have been very supportive of national road racing right across the board, since the well publicised insurance hike for all local events.
Vital areas such as first aid and logistics all add to the cost of running a national road race in the modern era, so the promoting Club is urging all fans that plan to attend, to purchase a programme. £15 is an inexpensive cover charge for a great day's entertainment.