Loris Baz is eyeing World Superbike Championship podiums this season as he prepares for his return to the series with Ten Kate Racing, the Frenchman’s appetite for success having been whetted by his first test on the new Yamaha.

Former MotoGP rider Baz will be back on the grid in Jerez this weekend for round six of the 2019 WorldSBK season, where he will swell the ranks on a fifth Yamaha R1.

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Getting his chance to ride the bike for the first time during the WorldSBK test at Misano, his first outing on a WorldSBK machine for seven months, Baz was candid in saying he felt more enjoyment riding the R1 over two days – mostly in the wet – than he did in an unhappy year riding Althea Racing’s ageing BMW S1000RR.

“It hasn’t been easy to stay home and see the pecking order from the sofa,” he told Crash.net.

“But it was the right choice… I’m certain it was the right choice, because it has been possible to come back with the top bike and the top team. It’s all I wanted so I’m really happy and really thankful to Ten Kate and Yamaha because they made this possible.

“It was seven months for me when I wasn’t riding the bike on the race track, so the main thing was to check the basics, talk to the team and try to understand this bike – it’s a pretty special bike.

“I don’t see any weak or negative points on the bike. I had a lot of fun over the two days - I had more fun in them than the whole of last season!”

Though the tricky conditions and the priority focus on set-up details meant lap times were recorded by stopwatch rather than a transponder, Baz says he got down to a 1m 36s – despite a crash – which put him a respectable three seconds off last year’s Misano pole-time, set on qualifying tyres and in optimum conditions.

“We had a few laps in the dry and I was every time more comfortable, so I am certain they will keep the same process. In the end I’ve had 70 dry laps and maybe 80 laps on wet. When you didn’t ride for seven months it takes a while to come back, but after a few laps it was OK.

“I wasn’t focused on lap time and honestly I haven’t been looking. I don’t know the bike very well so I’m not able to push straight away when I go out with new tyres. It’s just normal things you have to bear in mind. I wasn’t even pushing when I crashed. I put on qualifying tyres at the end, I was just trying something and it was exciting to have this feeling - much more exciting than last time.”

An entirely fresh project for the WorldSBK title-winning Ten Kate Racing team, the deal to sign Baz on a Yamaha is the happy outcome from a turbulent period that saw the Dutch operation declare bankruptcy in the wake of unexpectedly parting ways with long-time partners, Honda.

Nonetheless, the outfit’s considerable experience and resource – which helped it win Honda’s 2007 WorldSBK title, as well as nine WorldSSP riders’ titles during its 2000s heyday – presented an opportunity for Yamaha to expand its interests alongside its factory-partners Crescent Racing (PATA) and sister outfit GRT.

Indeed, while ‘Ten Kate Yamaha’ rolls off the tongue strangely for those so used to the team’s name being suffixed with Honda, Baz - who in three seasons with Kawasaki Racing prior to joining MotoGP notched up two wins and 13 podiums - nonetheless expects the relationship to bear the fruit of silverware very soon.

“We still need track time to be really ready to fight for the podium,” he continued. “It’s hard to have a target but my target is to be on the podium as soon as possible. I don’t know if it can happen in Jerez or if we have to wait one more race. But I’m sure I am in safe hands (with the team) so if we make the right set-up decision at Jerez then we can try to push. I’m hungry, I miss racing and I miss enjoying the bike and fighting at the front!

“I will give everything we have from the first race to be on or close to the podium.”

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