Author: Oli Rushby Posted: 15 Dec 2015
It’s been a tough two years for Alex Lowes since stepping up to the World Superbike Championship in 2014.
While the likes of Kawasaki and Ducati have made huge strides with their machinery over the past three years, the Suzuki GSX-R1000, last properly updated in 2008, became more and more out-dated meaning Lowes and his Crescent team were on the back foot from the off.
Despite flashes of pace, Lowes struggled with lacklustre results aboard the GSX-R but now he finally has the chance to show what he can do as the Crescent team become Yamaha’s factory effort in 2016.
Lowes got his first taste of the new R1, which has dominated domestic series this year, as Yamaha’s extensive winter testing schedule got underway. Early signs are positive for the Lincolnshire lad, who is thought to have been setting fast lap times despite running a fairly basic-spec machine (Yamaha opted not to reveal lap times during testing).
Unfortunately, the positive tests ended on a negative note with Lowes suffering a gigantic highside on the penultimate day testing in Jerez. He dislocated his collarbone in the crash, which ruled him out of the remainder of that test and leaves him fighting to be fit for the first test of 2016 at Portimao in late January.
“I like the bike. It’s a lot different to anything I’ve ridden before,” said Lowes speaking to Bike Social in an exclusive interview. “There are lots of positives and we’re still on quite a low spec. The engine is basically BSB spec and we’re just working with the World Superbike electronics.
“I think the potential is massive. When I first rode the bike, I could really tell the difference. We don’t quite know where we’ll be in the first race yet but I’m certain that at some point in the year we’ll have a really good bike and be challenging at the front. There’s no reason why we can’t be competitive from the first races but we need to wait and see.”
Aragon saw the team’s first run out with the World Superbike-spec R1, meaning they’ve got quite a bit of work to do before the first round at Phillip Island in February.
“The engine we’ve got at the moment is similar to BSB spec, it’s no faster and we haven’t really done any work with the traction control yet, so it’s just basic settings but I know from this year that if you turn the traction control off and your tyre is less than five laps old the lap times are exactly the same. Traction control is most useful in the second half of the race or in warmer conditions.
“The biggest thing people complain about in World Superbikes is corner entry so that’s been the what we’ve been working the hardest on. The way the engine delivers its negative torque off the power takes a lot of controlling so we’ve been working quite a lot on that. The bike has never run on Magnetti Marelli electronics before, in the [Suzuka] 8hr it had GP electronics and in BSB they have the spec-Motec ECU.
“Even though the engine has been slow top end, the acceleration is fantastic and we’ve been quite competitive with what we’ve got. Hopefully in the new year we’ll take a few more steps but it’s one of those things, if you’re trying to get more power sometimes you can lose how easy the bike is to ride off the bottom. We need to keep that feeling and get a little bit more on top. It’s easy for me to request that but whether we can make it happen I’m not quite sure!
“From the first five laps I felt that the bike was quite good and there are still a lot of things we could potentially improve to make it better. For example, we’re still running a standard swingarm.”
It’s thought Lowes was one of the fastest riders on track at Jerez before he crashed and the 25-year-old says he was starting to feel really good on the bike, so heads into the winter break feeling positive despite his injuries.
“The day I crashed, I crashed in the afternoon but before that point it was all positive. The bike was great, I started to feel really good. It’s certainly promising so I’m looking forward to getting my shoulder sorted and getting back on the bike. The next time I ride the bike could be better already as there are some upgrades coming over the winter so it’s exciting.”
After two difficult seasons, Lowes’ recognises the magnitude of the opportunity he’s secured with a two-year factory Yamaha deal.
“It’s a massive opportunity for me. I’ve got Sylvain [Guintoli] as a team-mate which is a good benchmark and I’ve got a good team behind me. Yamaha have come in with some support and you need that manufacturer support if you want to win in World Superbikes.
“It’s a lot different to what I’ve been used to in the past; even when I was less experienced in BSB, you could still make the difference up yourself because the bikes are at a more similar level. I feel that’s a little bit less in World Superbikes so that’s been the most frustrating thing for me. I feel that I’ve done an OK job; when I first went into the team I had Eugene as a teammate who had finished top three in the world the previous two years and I did almost exactly the same as he did through the year despite not knowing the majority of the tracks.
“As soon as I jumped on the Yamaha I felt competitive, so it’s now a case of waiting until the first race as I want to try and get back at the front and mix it with the top boys. I haven’t lost my speed in the last two years even though it’s been really difficult. In Qatar we were running close to the front even if we didn’t finish the races.
“I’m feeling quite good. We can’t expect too much but I know what the bike is like and it should be competitive.”
Lowes now faces a race against time to be fit for when testing resumes in late January. Having spent the last few weeks in a sling he has been limited in his training but his determination is higher than ever.
“I’ve fractured the top of my humorous, in the shoulder joint, and I’ve got to wait a while with the soft tissue and muscle damage too,” he explained. “I’ve got another couple of weeks in the sling and then hopefully I’ll know a bit more and be able to make a decision on riding at the tests in the New Year.
“We’ve still got quite a bit of time as the test is at the end of January. I’d like to ride as I’m obviously missing a lot of training now so in terms of bike fitness it would be good to do at least a few laps just to get back in to it. The most important thing is to be fit for flying to Australia in the middle of February.”