Round 1 of the 2023 Australian Superbike Championship was h
eld in conjunction with the Round 1 of the World Superbike Championship at the glorious Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on Feb 24th to 26th.
In just his 2nd ever ASBK Supersport event, Race Center’s Luke Sanders scored a brilliant podium with 2nd place in race 2 of 3.
With only 1 practice session before qualifying on the Friday, it was very important for the team to hit the ground running. Particularly as we did not attend the ASBK pre season test, nor test at Phillip Island in the lead up to the event due to budget constraints and work commitments.
Knowing this, as a team we came up with a clear run plan that would help us find as much speed as possible with the limited running.
Following a solid run in free practice 1, which also included a practice pit stop and tyre change to get Julian in the groove for qualifying, Luke had very clear feedback on the bike balance and what was holding him back.
Fastest Lap 1.39.201
Friday afternoon’s single 20min qualifying session would set the grid for all 3 Supersport races over the weekend. Using Luke’s feedback from the FP1 de-brief, Daz came up with a revised setup to help address the balance issues Luke was feeling.
It clearly worked, Luke was able to drop 0.8 of a second which also broke his previous PB of a 1.38.6, all this despite minimal run time. The fastest lap time was aided by a very well executed mid-session pit stop and tyre change by Jools.
Fastest Lap 1.38.432
We awoke Saturday morning to beautiful conditions. Following our qualifying debrief on Friday night, the feedback from Luke was again very clear and Daz felt confident in the setup changes needed.
Luke made a great start from P12 on the grid, moving up to 8th on the opening lap. However, Luke was pushed wide in Turn 12 on the 2nd lap, relegating him back to the P11.
Still, it was clear that the setup change had worked, Luke posted his first ever 1.37sec lap around Phillip Island with a 1.37.996 on the first flying lap of the race. Over the next 5 laps Luke continued to improve his lap times as he became more used to the new setup. On lap 7 he posted a blistering 1.37.279, a full 1.4 seconds faster than he had been around the circuit up until this race meeting.
In true Phillip Island style, on lap 8 it started to drizzle a fair bit forcing the riders to back off and halt Luke’s lap time progression. Luke greeted the chequered flag in P12, a mega race for us. Anytime you can improve you base dry pace by such a margin is just fantastic. Doing so with clear feedback and clear plans is even better because it suggests the pace is real and no accident.
Fastest Lap 1.37.279
Race 2 was held late on Saturday afternoon, by this time the conditions had changed to full wet and presented the riders with very tricky conditions. While reasonable in the wet, Luke is not a rider we would have labelled as a wet weather specialist, well maybe until now haha. He made a great start and had moved into P7 by the end of lap one. From there he ran his own race, built and built pace as he got more used to the conditions.
On Lap 5 he had moved into P2! Yep P2 and a potential podium place. The next 5 laps were nerve racking for the team on the pit wall as we all just hoped for a clear run for the remainder of the race.
Luke held his nerve and rode an absolutely amazing race to finish in P2, his first ever ASBK podium in just his 2nd ASBK race meeting. Amazing effort.
It was clearly a highlight for the whole extended Race Center team and great reward for all the hard work leading up to this.
P2 – Podium
Fastest Lap 1.50.982
Prior to Sunday’s Race 3, the circuit received another downpour. The track was completely wet however as the race approached the circuit was starting to dry.
These situations are always tricky, knowing what the best tyres and setup is to run is difficult. Especially as time is limited.
Still the team was well prepared with 3 options, full soft wets, harder wets for damp conditions and slicks for dry conditions. On the sighting lap Luke felt the track would dry quick enough to warrant a gamble on full slicks. While the opening few laps would be extremely difficult, if the track did dry enough then the slicks would come into their own.
As such we opted for full slicks and we were not alone in that decision. However, it turned out to be the wrong decision and probably 10min too early, the track was just too wet in sectors 1 and 2.
Luke did an absolutely amazing job to negotiate such difficult conditions. Half of the track was fully wet and he was on slick tyres! Unbelieve that he was able to bring the bike back upright, such intense concentration and skill required to do something like that.
By the end of the race it did start to dry up and Luke was lapping 4 secs quicker than the leaders but it was just too little too late.
Still despite the fact we made the wrong call which led to a poor result, that type of experience will prove invaluable for Luke in the future.
Fastest Lap: 1.43.828
Overall, it was a massively successful weekend for us as a whole. Stepping back and putting into perspective where we are at as a team, and where Luke is at in his development path. The results we saw on the weekend were probably as good as we could have hoped for.
Luke Sanders: “I'm really happy to have put the bike on the podium. A lot of people have offered their support to make weekends like this happen and it feels phenomenal to give them a great result to show for it.
Team Principal Darren Sciberras: “I’m really pleased with the entire team and how the weekend has panned out. Clearly Luke rode an exceptional weekend, a standout weekend for him. He seems in a good place mentally and is combining that with his talent that we have always known is there.
Over the past 12 months we have been doing a lot of work in changing how approach things with him. We have made lots of mistakes along the way, which is unfortunate, but also just a part of the normal process and journey. Obviously, the podium was an absolutely delight for everyone involved with Race Center. However, I am probably more buoyed by the step in our base, dry pace. Knowing the work we have been doing behind the scenes it’s just bit of nice reward for the hard work that has gone in.”
We will now turn our focus to Round 2 at Sydney Motorsport Park, a twilight event on March 24th and 25th. It is a track that Luke has never ridden before. And again, due to budget and work commitments doing any prior testing will not be possible. As such we have to be realistic, while we always give it our all, the primary objective will be for Luke to learn the track so that when we go there in 2024 he will know the track well.
Thank you to all our supporters and followers, it’s wonderful to have such great support.