“What can I say? Three in a row for me and four in a row for Yamaha!” declared Alex Lowes after he and Michael van den Mark won the rain-lashed 2018 Suzuka 8 Hours.
Now a five-year veteran of the World SuperBike Championship, a lot has come right for the man out of Lincoln, England in ‘18. There was a first career pole at Assen in April; June brought the twin brother of Moto2 challenger Sam Lowes his first WorldSBK race victory; and July, the Suzuka triumph. Typecast as a future MotoGP campaigner (a 2016 stint with the Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP outfit lit the fuse), Lowes isn’t having it, a spirited run at the ’19 WorldSBK being first and foremost. A fortnight out from the home stretch of the globetrotting WSBK world tour, Lowes ruminated about the asphalt frontier before the front wheel of the works Pata Yamaha World Superbike Yamaha YZF-R1.
Q: Does the long summer break the WorldSBK takes drive you crazy? You guys are off for over two months.
ALEX LOWES: Yeah, I try to just think about the positives about it, to be honest. Otherwise, you miss riding so much. We had a test in Portugal and that was quite good. Obviously you’d like to ride more, for sure, but we don’t have that opportunity. I just try to be as positive as I can about it.
Q: Seven rounds and 14 races into the 2018 WorldSBK season, you’ve amassed several top five finishes, two podium placings and a win. Your overall average finishing position is right around seventh place. What do you make of your year thus far?
AL: A mixed bag. It’s been consistent all the way up to the last race at Misano (Lowes went DNF-6 in Italy). Up to that point we had finished every race. I feel like I’m riding better and I’m a bit more prepared in terms of the bike and everything, but we’ve struggled a bit since Pirelli brought new tires. We’ve sort of struggled a bit to be as competitive as I was in the winter. We’re just trying to get our head around that. I’d say it has been a decent year with some good highs, but I think we’d need to be winning every week to be satisfied.
Q: Seven years after making your WorldSBK debut at Brno, you returned to the venue this year to ace your first career WorldSBK victory. A long time in coming; I’d assume it meant a hell of a lot to you. Can you talk about that?
AL: Yeah, it meant a lot. Obviously it has been too long in coming, but finally to get the win was nice. But then you want to win more to make sure it wasn’t a one-off.
Q: You’ve been competing on the Yamaha YZF-R1 for three years now. Is the bike now developed to a point to where you can make a run at a more wins and even a world title? Are you guys going in the right direction?
AL: Yeah, we’re going in the right direction. Like I said, from my personal point of view I feel like I’ve been struggling to adapt to these new tires. I’ve never felt comfortable on that, and we need to try and just work a little bit more on that with the chassis, but the bike is going good now. We tried a lot more things at the test we just had in Portugal. Yamaha are working really hard. It’s like an upward trend and we’re improving all the time, so we just need to keep our heads down and keep focusing and hopefully that’s going to take us consistently closer to the front.
Q: Only Portugal, France, Argentina and Qatar remain on the 2018 WorldSBK schedule. What’s your masterplan for this final run?
AL: My masterplan is that I want to challenge for the podium every weekend, which we’ve been doing more or less, but at some races we’ve needed a little bit of luck because we’d been a bit too far away. I want to be challenging every weekend for the podium at these four different tracks. If I can achieve podiums every weekend, then I can look to make another step over the winter to have an eye on challenging next year for the championship. At the minute we are too far away as far as consistency to say I want to win the championship. If we can make a step this last part of the year, then I feel that during the wintertime that we can make another step and improve in all areas of the bike, and I can try and improve a bit and we can make the proper challenge.
Q: The Kawasaki Racing Team’s ZX-10RRs of Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes have, once again, been omnipotent. Are you guys going in the right direction to try and reel them in?
AL: Yeah, we’re going in that direction, but those guys, whenever there is a new tire or the rules change a little bit, they seem to really be on top of their guy. We’ll keep working hard and every day we’re trying to chase them down and we need to do that for World Superbike, not just Yamaha.
Q: There was some talk throughout the year about you making the move to MotoGP. Any truth in any of it?
AL: Yeah, obviously I’m with the Yamaha team next year, but to be honest, by the time everybody knew what was happening I’d already signed to stay on the World Superbike project. Honestly, I feel like I need to win in World Superbike. That could mean racing with Johnny Rea every weekend and trying to beat the Kawasaki bikes, and then maybe I can earn my ride in MotoGP if that is possible. That’s what I need to try and do. I’d love to race MotoGP in the future, but I need to win where I am to start with.