Some of world superbike’s biggest names have reacted with a mix of trepidation and excitement with news that Aussie motorcycling legend Troy Bayliss is making a one-off comeback aboard the factory Ducati at this weekend’s opening round of the 2015 Superbike World Championship at Phillip Island.
Reigning world champion Sylvain Guintoli, who will begin his title defence on a Honda this weekend, joked that Bayliss has now taken the “oldest rider in the paddock” mantle off him – Bayliss is 45 years old – but also cautioned that he could be surprise a lot of people.
“You never know what Troy is going to do, he could surprise everybody and be very fast, and he has got a lot of balls to come back and do it.”
Said Guintoli at today’s Phillip Island media conference, where Bayliss’ wildcard outing was still the hot topic of conversation.
Suzuki’s Alex Lowes, who like Bayliss was the British superbike champion before hitting the world stage, is delighted to be racing alongside one of his boyhood idols.
“For me it’s definitely awesome, he is one of my all-time heroes and I’m looking forward to it, we all know what he can do and if there is anyone that can come back from not competing for a period of time and put in a surprise performance like he did at Valencia GP then he is going to be the guy to do it.
“I think it will be great for everyone and I just hope I don’t embarrass myself and get beaten by him.”
said Lowes, who was fastest in final pre-season testing at Phillip Island earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Lowes’ fellow Brit Jonathan Rea, now on a Kawasaki in 2015, has backed himself into a corner: he believes in fairy tales, but he hopes that Bayliss doesn’t produce one. At least not this weekend.
“At Troy’s last ever race (in Portugal) we shared the front row together, so we get to finish the story again here, I think what he is doing is incredible; I mean there is going to be so many more people through the gate because Troy is such a legend in his own right and when I first saw the gossip news on my Twitter feed followed by the official news I was so happy for him and everyone.
“And then I remembered that I believed in fairy tales. Hang on wait a minute, what if everything goes right and he kicks my arse and makes me look pretty amateur. However, I’m just really happy to share the grid with him again.”
Rea and Leon Haslam are the only riders still on the world superbike grid from Bayliss’ farewell ride in Portugal on November 2, 2008, when Bayliss went out on a high with his fourth clean sweep of the year, which also included the Phillip Island round.
At Phillip Island that year, Bayliss clocked a best lap of 1:31.493 in qualifying, riding the Ducati 1098R. Only six riders bettered that time in testing earlier this week, with Lowes the fastest from Rea, rookie Jordi Torres (Aprilia), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) and Haslam (Aprilia).
Bayliss will replace Davide Giugliano this weekend after the Italian was ruled out after fracturing his L1 and L2 vertebra on Monday. Amazingly, Bayliss will ride the Panigale R this weekend, his fourth different world superbike mounts after the 996, 998 and 1098 R.
Bayliss says he “hasn’t stop smiling for two days” once it was clear he would be making a comeback.
“I’m not looking too far ahead of myself, but when I sit on the Ducati it feels like I’m sitting in my chair. I’ve got a bit of experience and I’m not going to jump in their too hard or fast — just ease my way in so the whole goal is to get a decent result and be part of the show for the weekend.”
Bayliss last rode a Ducati world superbike machine three years ago, but he says “he has a good memory for things that I like”.
“I am sure I will get going pretty quickly, and I know the piece of track like the back of my hand.”
When asked about his ‘seniority’ status in this weekend’s field – Guintoli is the second oldest at 13 years his juniors
“You are only as old as you feel, and I am the current Australian dirt track and supermoto champion so I haven’t exactly been sitting around in a lounge chair.
“There was a bike sitting there and to me it just made sense to ride it. Honestly, I am not doing this for myself — I am doing it for a lot of people who want to see me back out on the track. I know the people and I know the Ducati.”
Bayliss is one of 25 world superbike riders will be on track from tomorrow (Friday Feb 20) from 11.45am for first practice in what will be a record 25th running of the Superbike World Championship at Phillip Island. First qualifying is scheduled for 3.30pm Friday afternoon. Saturday Feb 21 will feature Superpole for final qualifying from 3pm; and on Sunday the field will contest two, 22 lap races at Noon and 2.40pm.
Tickets available at gate, or see the action on the weekend on Foxsports 5.