Fresh from his switch to Castrol Honda and World Superbikes from his San Carlo Gresini Honda MotoGP team, Hiroshi Aoyama has been testing at Losail in Qatar.
The 30-year-old Japanese rider is ending the season where he began, at least geographically – the private Ten Kate Honda test this week is at the same track where he raced for the Gresini MotoGP team in MotoGP back in March. Aoyama competed during the season alongside his old 250cc sparring partner Marco Simoncelli, whose tragic death a few weeks ago at Sepang deeply affected the 2009 250cc champion.
But now Hiro has moved on, getting to grips as you see here with his new Honda Fireblade machinery, along with Castrol Honda incumbent Jonathan Rea, ahead of next year’s World Superbikes championship, which will get going at Phillip Island in Australia on February 26.
The eagle-eyed among you will spot that Aoyama is taking the number 4 bike for 2012, with Isle of Man resident Rea reverting to his previous number 65.
Rea himself has had something of a torrid season, his obvious pace blighted by bad luck, not the least of which included a broken arm and collarbone in a fall at Misano in June that saw him miss three months of the season.
But despite some issues on his bike, Rea managed two third places in the final round of the SBK championship in Portugal last month, having smashed the Portimão lap record in qualifying by three-tenths of a second to take pole position for the final two races.
“This year’s been such a journey for me, with a lot of ups and downs, so it’s just great to go into the off-season with no injuries and the bike on the podium here,” the 24-year-old Northern Irishman commented afterwards. “I’d like to thank everyone who has made the journey with me this season and to the team and all its partners for their support. I can’t wait for 2012 to start now.”
Sofuoglu returns to WSS
In other news, it’s been announced that Kenan Sofuoglu, who has competed on a Suter this year in Moto2 for Technomag-CIP, will switch back to World SuperSport next year.
The 27-year-old Turkish rider won the series in 2007 and last year, and joins the official Italian-based Kawasaki Lorenzini team with high hopes of winning the championship again after a disappointing Moto2 venture that gleaned just one podium place all season and 17th overall in the series.
"I am very happy for this opportunity given by Kawasaki which has arrived [at] a particular moment of my sporting career," said Sofuoglu. "The experience in Moto2 was important, but, for me, it is fundamental to fight for the title – and I am sure that, with the Lorenzini team, this will be possible.”