We’re back racing! The first World Superbike event kicked off in Australia February 25-26, with no real surprises up front but indications that it’ll be a closer season than last year’s Jonathon Rea/Chaz Davies Kawasaki/Ducati duel. While Rea and Davies again grabbed the top two steps on the podium the racing behind them was much closer, with, for example, in race one five different riders on four different makes of bike taking their turn at the front.
This weekend marked the start of the weird new starting grid procedure for Race Two – while the riders who qualified 10th and back start as usual from their qualifying times, the top nine, or three rows, are juggled. The three podium placers get kicked back to row three, while fourth through sixth take the front row and seventh through ninth the second. The idea is to mix up at least the opening laps and provide more of a spectator special.
The reality is that it took Rea and Davies five laps to get themselves up front, soon followed by Yamaha’s Alex Lowes and Davies’ new Ducati team-mate Marco Melandri (who ran wide and fell in the first race. Both races ended up with Rea just pipping Davies at the line, by less than a wheel-width on Saturday, and perhaps a bike length on Sunday.
The third-place finishers, Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes on Saturday and Melandri on Sunday, were close in both cases but not quite in the mix for a win. Sykes has been critical of the grid shakeup for the second race of each event, but after finishing only sixth in race two said, “We saw today that the guys that finished on the podium all started on row three and four so if they can do it I have to be able to do it too.”
The Yamaha and MV teams have to be very encouraged from their results. Yamaha’s Alex Lowes rode two strong races, leading for a few laps on Saturday and finally finishing fourth in both races. Even more pleased was the tiny MV Agusta team, with Leon Camier running with the front group and collecting an excellent fifth and eighth despite missing most of Friday practice with technical issues.
Honda can’t have been too happy with their results, Nicky Hayden managing 12th on day one, then not finishing day two, while new team-mate Stefan Bradl could only manage 15th on both days. In all fairness the team only recently got their new bikes and are behind the eight-ball in learning how to set them up, but as Hayden said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The other factory team, Aprilia, with Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori on board, collected an eighth for Laverty on Saturday while Savadori crashed out, and a ninth and a 10th for Savadori and Laverty on Sunday, with Laverty leading briefly after the mixed-up start. Neither rider was overly happy with their bikes, complaining of inconsistency and lack of top speed. Still, it’s not a bad start
The WSS (600 cc) race saw some spectacular crashes, fortunately without serious injury to anyone. After one of them, the race was red-flagged and ran as a 10-lap sprint to the finish, where Robbie Rolfo (MV Agusta) and Lucas Mahias (Yamaha) banged their way across the line together, Rolfo taking the win, then running off the track at high speed, fortunately without crashing. They were followed home by Anthony West (Yamaha), Kyle West (Yamaha), and 2016’s late-season sensation Niki Tuuli (Yamaha).
World Superbike Standings after 2 of 26 races (13 events)
- Jonathon Rea, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 50 points
- Chaz Davies, U.K., Aruba.it Racing Ducati, 40
- Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team, 26
- Alex Lowes, U.K., Pata Yamaha, 26
- Xavier Fores, Spain, Barni Ducati, 21
- Leon Camier, U.K., MV Agusta Corse, 19
- Marco Melandri, Italy, Aruba.it Racing Ducati, 16
- Michael van der Mark, Netherlands, Pata Yamaha, 16
- Eugene Laverty, U.K., Milwaukee Aprilia, 14
10. Jordi Torres, Spain, Althea BMW, 9