IT’S like he has never left. He may be 48 years old, but three-time world superbike champion Troy Bayliss from Taree made a sensational return to the professional road racing ranks at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit this week,
In the first practice session ahead of this weekend’s opening round of the Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) at Phillip Island, the Ducati-mounted Bayliss completed the 30-minute session second on the ladder behind defending Australian champion Josh Waters (Suzuki).
In the process, Bayliss not only carved 0.5 seconds off his best time from a recent Phillip Island test session, but he also finished ahead of riders such as former national superbike champions Wayne Maxwell (Yamaha), Troy Herfoss (Honda), Glenn Allerton (BMW), Bryan Staring (Kawasaki) and Mike Jones (Kawasaki).
Clearly relishing his return to the same patch of tarmac where he was such a powerhouse in the world superbike (WorldSBK) ranks, Bayliss, Taree-bred but now based on the Gold Coast with his family, is embarking on his first ASBK campaign since way back in 1997 when he was fresh-faced 27-year-old. He finished second overall that season, before heading overseas to find stardom in world superbikes and MotoGP.
Bayliss has reunited with his old employer Ducati to make his return to the professional ranks, and he hasn’t cut any corners to give himself the best chance of success.
“I’ve dropped down about six kilos and been living like a monk,” said Bayliss. “The beers are gone and, although I’ve done a lot of work to get in the best shape I can, I find myself back in ASBK with the best field the championship has ever seen.
“Everyone wants to win, and I didn’t come here to ride around.”
ASBK will be the major support class at the season-opening round of the 2018 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, with 50 per cent of the field half Bayliss’ age!
Bayliss retired from WorldSBK at the end of 2008 after a total of 52 wins and three titles (2001/2006/2008) but returned for a two-round return cameo in 2015 to replace an injured rider in the Ducati factory team.
Since then he’s still been active on race tracks around the country – mainly under the guise of fast-tracking the promising career of his teenage son Oli, who races in the supersport 300 class – but it’s another thing riding a 200 horsepower superbike at speed.
“I’m doing everything I can to ride the Ducati,” said Bayliss. “But I don’t know what it is – the bikes seem to be getting higher these days! They are easier to get off and harder to get on to!
“I’m certainly not the man I used to be, but I am going to give it a nudge and hopefully I can run up the front with these guys.”
The race on Saturday followed by two more on Sunday supporting the world superbike season-opening battles.
WorldSBK: fans are in for a treat
Ducati factory rider Chaz Davies believes the “fans are in for a treat” when the 2018 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship begins at Phillip Island this weekend.
The reigning world No. 2 says a combination of rider and team changes plus new technical rules makes for a heady mix.
“I think we had some good races last year, but this year there will be some barnburners – especially when the reverse comes into play for race two,” Davies said at today’s pre-event press conference.
“Also, in 2017 some riders were able to go to the front and clear off, but I don’t think it will be quite like that this year. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
Davies finished second in both of last year’s Phillip Island WorldSBK races behind arch-rival and world champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki), and the pair is preparing to renew hostilities – with gun riders like Tom Sykes (Kawasaki), Eugene Laverty (Aprilia), Loris Baz (BMW), Jordi Torres (MV Agusta), Michael van der Mark (Yamaha), Sam Lowes (Yamaha) and Leon Camier (Honda) also coming out to play.
WorldSBK practice begins tomorrow, with Aussies Wayne Maxwell (Yamaha), Troy Herfoss (Honda) and Daniel Falzon (Yamaha) in the 22-rider WorldSBK field, and there’s also a local triumvirate in world supersport: Anthony West (Kawasaki), Tom Toparis (Kawasaki) and Lachlan Epis (Kawasaki).