The popular Italian - a double winner in MotoGP, Dakar stage winner and MotoAmerica title runner-up - makes his WorldSBK race debut in this weekend’s Phillip Island season opener.

“I always wanted to come one day to race in WorldSBK,” said the Barni Ducati rider. “The Championship is getting stronger and the fight for the title last year was huge.

"I said to myself, ‘why don’t I watch the races closer?’ so I decided to join this Championship and I am really happy!”

Marc Marquez & Joan Mir show off the 2023 Repsol Honda! | MotoGP 2023

But that also means getting used to a three-race format.

“I was used to giving all I had in one race in MotoGP, so that on one night, I could enjoy with my team and friends and have two or three beers! Then last year, I went to MotoAmerica, and I said, ‘oh no! I have one more race!’ and now, we have three!"

The Italian, who last raced at the famous Australian circuit as a factory Ducati MotoGP rider in 2019, added:

“I’m still worried about the single lap time with the new tyre. The race simulation was OK; managing the tyre was quite a big challenge but I felt good.”

Remy Gardner: 'Top six or seven possible'

Another former MotoGP rider making his WorldSBK debut this weekend is home star Remy Gardner.

The 24-year-old was promoted to MotoGP on the back of winning the Moto2 title, but left without a seat after just a single season at Tech3 KTM.

Gardner is now making a fresh start with GRT Yamaha.

“It’s been a good pre-season and I enjoyed riding the bike. There’s no better place to start than at home so I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “The strong points are, I think, the bike turns pretty well at the front and it’s a good braking bike. I think it’s missing a little bit of traction and a little bit of engine compared to the other manufacturers.

“It’s a good bike, really happy with it. There’s still a lot more potential I can get out of it. It’s another thing that I need to get used to and learn. This week’s going to be a big learning curve for me. Three races are definitely something very new and I’m just taking it step by step. I think being in the top six or seven can be possible.”