Carlos Checa will head into this weekend’s World Superbike curtain raiser as one of the riders to beat after setting the pace in the Phillip Island pre-season test. The Spaniard led Marco Melandri on Ducati’s new Panigale 1199R and admitted he wasn’t expecting such a strong performance this early in the year. With so much potential still to be unlocked, Checa is eagerly anticipating a competitive season.

“I’m extremely happy with the results; it was a nice surprise to make the fastest lap, with everybody riding in the same conditions. I honestly didn’t believe that we’d be at this level at this point; I thought I’d finish about seventh. We were already able to find a good base setting yesterday and then continued to work from there today. I like the fact that every change we make to this bike is positive and it seems that everything we do results in us going in the right direction. The team are working really well together and this is the first time this year that we’ve had good conditions that have allowed us to spend a lot of time on the bike. Working on this new project right now is one of the most satisfying moments of my life. It is an exciting challenge and today’s results show that the bike has great potential and that there is still room for improvement.”

Checa spent Friday in hospital with a blocked intestine and his Alstare Ducati teammate Ayrton Badovini has also suffered a disrupted pre-season. The Italian crashed heavily on Friday and was still short of 100% today but got enough running in to get a good feeling with the bike.

“I only did a few laps today, just to see how I felt on the bike. I have a hematoma on my liver and that makes me very sore – especially through the right turns and when changing direction at speed. According to the doctor, this kind of thing normally needs one month to heal properly, but I’m hoping that, after two days rest, I will be able to get on my bike and get round the circuit ok. I’m reasonably happy with what we got done last week. I’ve never ridden a twin before and the bike’s characteristics are very different to what I’m used to. So far I’ve been concentrating on making small steps forward, instead of trying anything radical and I feel that we’re making progress. We have to improve quite a few things, but that is normal with a new bike. I am positive that once we get the bike dialled in, we can get good results.”

Team Owner Francis Batta feels Alstare all well prepared with the new season a matter of days away and are ahead of schedule with the Panigale.

“For me, it’s been a good test. Carlos is a good development rider and he has shown what’s possible with this bike. This has been the first time this year that we’ve had decent weather and that has allowed us to work hard and try a lot of things. After today, I feel confident in this project and I now think we’ll be competitive sooner than we originally thought.”