2023 World Superbike Champion Makes Sepang MotoGP™ Wildcard Appearance
For the first time since 2018, reigning Champion Alvaro Bautista will become the latest MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship rider to wildcard in MotoGP™. This week’s Malaysian Grand Prix will see Bautista line up on the MotoGP™ grid for the Aruba.it Ducati team on the Ducati Desmosedici GP.
For the two-time WorldSBK Champion this won’t be his first Ducati Desmosedici GP outing, having already completed numerous tests throughout the year. Bautista completed a test in Misano back in June of this year, setting a blistering time from the test despite not going for a time attack; the second test for Bautista saw him replace test rider Michele Pirro who was injured at the time, testing 2024 parts for the Bologna-based manufacturer.
While many have been throwing around the possibility of Bautista’s results, having only secured his second WorldSBK title two weeks ago, he cleared up the expectations he has placed on himself which was to simply have some fun and score the best possible result he can.
Alvaro Bautista: “I’m so happy to defend the title with the #1 but now we are in MotoGP™ for this weekend. I’m so excited to race here at Sepang. It’s one of my favourite tracks and I miss this track. It’ll be really nice to come back and do laps with the MotoGP™ bike. To race again in MotoGP™ will be nice, especially with this new format with the Sprint on Saturday and then the race on Sunday. I don’t have any expectations about the result because the level of the category is so high and so close. Even if you are not so far away with the lap time, in positions you are a bit far. For me, the target is trying to find good confidence with the bike, try to enjoy and do a weekend from less to more. The main thing is trying to have fun and try to do my best.”
The reigning Champion also discussed why he and the team opted to wildcard at Sepang instead of any other circuits. With three MotoGP™ races taking place after the WorldSBK campaign finished, the choices were limited but Bautista revealed why they went for Malaysia. He said: “This kind of track with the long corners and fast corners suit me very well due to my riding style. I decided to come here because it had to be a race after my Championship ends, so it was only Sepang, Qatar or Valencia. I just tried to push Ducati and Aruba to come to Sepang and they accepted. Aside from the track, the weather is also good; I prefer the hot conditions. It’s a track I can enjoy riding the bike at.”
While the double World Champion is heading into the Malaysian GP as a wildcard, a podium is certainly not off the cards – proven so by a spectacular race put in by Troy Bayliss in 2006 when he too completed a wildcard after being crowned World Superbike champion.
While their stories are a little different, Bayliss wrapped up the 2006 WorldSBK title before getting the call to replace injured Sete Gibernau at Valencia. Bayliss showed a strong potential right from the word go, putting his Ducati second on the grid and only two tenths behind MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi. The 30-lap race brought many Australian’s to their feet when the #46 machine of Rossie crashed in the early stages of the race, allowing three-time WorldSBK Champion Troy Bayliss to take the lead and secure a memorable win on his MotoGP return.
Bayliss discussed his own MotoGP™ return, saying: “I’m really happy with Bautista and this situation that’s going to happen for him. I came in when Sete was injured and, of course, our Championship was just finished as well. After Sete was injured, they asked if I would come and ride the bike for the last race in Valencia and to be part of the last race of the 990s at the time, to finish the project that Loris and I started together in 2003. It made a lot of sense. We went along for that race and the story goes that I took Paolo Ciabatti and Ernest Maranello, some of the guys from the WorldSBK team, and the weekend turned into a bit of a fairytale. Something I’ll never forget; it was very special. You never know. Bautista’s really been on form on the Ducati WorldSBK bike. I think it’s great that he’s going to Sepang. He’s ridden there in the past; he’s got some experience there. He did have a test on the MotoGP™ bike at Misano and was quite good. It could turn out to be such a great weekend for him as well. Time will tell.”