News 16 Feb 2010

WSBK: Aussie Vermeulen primed for Kawasaki challenge

Life just don’t get any easier for Australian motorcycle racer Chris Vermeulen despite the Queenslander’s switch from MotoGP’s pinnacle of the sport to the Superbike World Championship for this season.

That’s because the amenable former WSBK runner-up has taken on the massive challenge of turning Kawasaki’s fortunes around in World Superbikes, starting with the 2010 Yamaha Philip Island opening round of the World Superbike Championship on 26-28 February.

But it’s a role he has embraced, and he expectantly counts himself in the list of riders capable of winning races in 2010.

“I can do it. I’ve won 10 WSBK races before, been runner-up in the championship, and beaten most of those guys one stage of another,” said Vermeulen. “We’ve got a new team that’s got to gel together and we’ve got a motorcycle we’re trying to develop, so it’s about putting every piece of the puzzle together to get up the front.

“In 2010, there are seven factory teams with two riders each and all of those riders are expected to be fighting at the front. And then you’ve got your Shane Byrnes and your Carlos Checas and people like that on private bikes.

“Realistically there are 15 or 16 riders who could win a WSBK race this year – honestly. It’s not going to be easy at all, and the depth is the strongest I’ve seen in a long time.

“But for sheer championship presence you can never write off someone like Noriyuki Haga, especially if he wakes up on the right side of the bed.”

Vermeulen’s first serious hit out on the Kawasaki ZX-10R was in Portugal last month, which gave him a chance to prioritise what major set-up issues had to be addressed before the start of the championship.

“Portimao was a great test for us in that we learnt a lot about the bike, even though we got a little bit unlucky with some weather,” continued Vermeulen.

“Kawasaki and Showa have developed some new parts from the information we came up with at Portimao and we are going to be testing them at Phillip Island on 21-22 February, concentrating on things like weight transfer on the bike from braking to accelerating.

“They will be our priorities, and when we go into the race weekend it will be all about going as fast as we can!”

As far as power output is concerned – one area where riders always traditionally plead for more – Vermeulen is reasonably content.

“I think the Kawasaki has a similar top speed to the BMW or Ducati, and it’s a little bit down on the Aprilia and Honda at the moment,” the 27-year-old said. “But we are certainly in a sound position engine-wise to start the season as we work on some of the other bigger issues.”

Although this year is a vitally important one for Vermeulen and Kawasaki, there is no doubt that both parties are looking ahead with heady anticipation for the arrival of an all-new ZX-10R for 2011.

“Some of the information we have been gathering on the current bike is really good, as it’s all going towards the 2011 bike – where our main priority is,” said Vermeulen.

“I’ve seen some prototype 2011 bikes already and it’s completely different – and looks pretty special. Until I throw a leg over it I can’t really say, but I’ll definitely be testing that during this season.

“That whole project is what really drove me to Kawasaki, but I’m trying not to get ahead of myself.

“As for 2010, the team is not putting any pressure on me and is saying top 10 results would be great, because they haven’t had a lot of them. But personally I want to be in top five consistently starting the season – I’m a racer with no patience, but that’s normal.

“I hope we are going to be competitive at Phillip Island and in the front group challenging.”