Photo: World Superbike
Our earlier reports and predictions on the World Superbike initial event of the 2015 season weren’t far out of line – fantastic racing, great rookie performances, six different brands in the top 10 finishers – it doesn’t get much better.
As for close racing, a winning margin of 0.039 seconds in race one and 0.01 seconds in race two shows how close the competition was. The top three in both races were Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki), Leon Haslam (Aprilia), and Chaz Davies (Ducati), Rea and Haslam swapping wins and second places with Davies third in both, Rea and Haslam both with new teams and brands. Any of them could have finished in any of the podium spots.
Behind them superbike rookies Jordi Torres (Aprilia) and Michael van Der Mark (Honda) showed they’re hardly intimidated by their step to the big league. While both crashed out of race two, in race one Torres was fourth and van der Mark fifth, and in race two van der Mark led for several laps. The established top guns are going to have trouble with these two all year.
Kawasaki’s lead gun, Tom Sykes (2013 world champion) had a bit of a rough day, collecting a sixth and a fourth (actually, not bad results for him at Philip Island considering he doesn’t get on with the track). In the first race he had to fight back from well down in the pack after nearly being pushed off the course in the ultra-fast turn one by van der Mark; in an unusually restrained comment from the outspoken Yorkshireman, he later said, “It was one of those things, and he could have easily left me some room, but he didn’t.”
In race two he had an odd feeling from the front tire and wasn’t able to push to keep up with the top three but was well clear in fourth.
Ducati stand-in Troy Bayliss also had front tire problems in both races, slowed in the first and actually stopping for a new tire in the second; he ran as high as seventh in race one and thought he could have done better but for the tire problems. The three-time world champion said, “I’m feeling a real mix of emotions at the end of the weekend. I came here to have fun, and for the fans and the Phillip Island circuit. I thought that maybe I wouldn’t have the pace to be able to run with these guys anymore but instead I’ve seen that I can still be fast and, if it hadn’t been for the tire issue, I think I could have done a lot more.”
Fifth in the standings after the first weekend was 2014 champion Sylvain Guintoli with his new Pata Honda team. “Ginters” managed a seventh and a fifth, not bad considering he’d missed most of the pre-season testing after an early accident. The British-based French ace said, “After missing so much winter testing, I’ve really been treating this weekend as another live test session because I’m still not quite yet clicking with the bike. We’ll just keep working though and come back strong in Thailand. To be honest, I’ve never felt so physically drained after two races. I think the injury from Jerez must have somehow added to the dehydration because I felt really ill during both the races.”
Another new rider to the series, Moto 2 graduate Nico Terol on an Althea Racing Ducati Panigale, ended up sixth in the series after the first two races, with a terrific eighth and sixth: “In race two I didn’t have the right concentration at the start because I thought one of the lights was on on my dashboard and so I kept looking down, distracting myself, which led to some mistakes. From the mid-race point I found the right concentration and did my best. Sixth position is a good result but I’m sorry because if I’d made a few less mistakes I could have finished further up.”
Most disappointed rider of the day had to be Voltcom Suzuki’s Alex Lowes; at the top of the timesheets through all the previous week’s practices, he could only manage a ninth and a technical DNF. Lowes could only say, “I just don’t know what to say. Me and the team have put in so much work all week to have a strong package for today and from the very start of the warm-up session to the end of my second race, everything that could go wrong, did … everyone has been putting in so much effort to support me and get the GSX-R in the front group and we managed that all week but today it fell apart.”
In the 600 cc support class, Jules Cluzel picked up where he left off after last year’s title, taking his MV to a clear win over new team-mate Lorenzo Zanetti. Early challenger and top qualifier Kenan Sofuoglu was up front early on his Kawasaki, but ran off without crashing and did well to come back to collect sixth.
Behind the MVs of Cluzel and Zanetti, three Hondas rounded out the top five, with Britain’s Gino Rea third ahead of Scot Kevin Smith and Thai Rathapark Rillairot.
World standings after two of 26 races (one of 13 events)
- TIE, Leon Haslam, U.K., Red Devils Aprilia, /. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 45 points
- Chaz Davies, U.K., Aruba Ducati, 32
- Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 23
- Sylvain Guintoli, France, Pata Honda, 20
- Nico Terol, Spain, Althea Ducati, 18
- Leon Camier, U.K., MV Reparto Corse, 14
- Jordi Torres, Spain, Red Devils Aprilia, 13
- Matteo Baiocco, Italy, Althea Ducati, 12
- Mark van der Mark, Netherlands, Pata Honda, 11
Next event, March 22, Chang International Circuit, Thailand