The first international race of the year, World Superbike’s opening event at the Philip Island circuit in Australia, showed once again that if you’re only going to follow one series, WSB is the one. When a dozen riders are in the mix until past half-way and three or four of those are in a position to win at the end, you know you’ve seen a good race.
The second one (don’t forget, WSB runs two races per event) was closer than the first, but both were terrific clashes indicating that the machinery and riders look even closer-matched than they were in 2013. Of course, one race doesn’t make a season, but things look promising.
Returning Aprilia factory rider Sylvain Guintoli came out on top at the end of the day, taking a third and a win to grab the early lead in the point standings. He said, “I pushed a bit too much in Race 1, I started off really strong but towards the end I couldn’t keep the same pace … In the second race, I tried to save the tire a bit and it worked out. Considering what happened to me during the weekend I can’t be but happy!” He added with a laugh, “Maybe another baby next November?” referring to his large and still-growing family – all of whom accompany him to the races.
As in 2013, he and Irishman Eugene Laverty traded wins; unlike 2013, Laverty is off the Aprilia squad and riding the independent and aging Suzuki GSX-R1000 entered by the Voltcom Crescent team. Both Laverty and new boy Alex Lowes (fresh from the British series) shocked the factory teams by their speed all week, and rumour is that Laverty is on tap to ride Suzuki’s Moto GP bike when the factory returns to that class in 2015.
Laverty came from behind in Race 1 after a poor start; by half-way he was on the tail of the leaders and by 2/3 distance he passed his old team-mate and simply rode away to a commanding victory. Guintoli, who’d looked comfortable in the lead from the start until Laverty came by, had the additional ignomy of being pushed back to third by his new Aprilia team-mate Marco Melandri. Melandri had started well, dropped back, then came on strong in the final third of the race.
Davide Giugliano, on the first factory Ducati Panigale, took fourth, while 21-year-old Frenchman Loris Baz grabbed a surprising fifth on his factory Kawasaki.
The second race started much as the first, but with several more riders challenging up front, including 2012 champion Tom Sykes on his Kawasaki, and the Pata Hondas of Jonathon Rea and Leon Haslam. Laverty again got a relatively poor start, carved his way up, and was in second at about 2/3 distance when suddenly his engine gave up in a big way, spraying clouds of smoke and oil all over the track. Nobody crashed, but the race was almost immediately red-flagged once the marshalls saw how much oil was down.
That left Guintoli in first, with Baz and Sykes close behind. Giugliano grabbed fourth again, while Rea and Haslam had an inter-team Honda battle to fifth and sixth. Melandri had run off without crashing, and had only managed to get back up to eighth when the race was stopped.
The engine loss was worse than it might seem, as teams are only allowed eight engines this season. Losing one right off the bat is a serious potential problem for the Voltcom team and Laverty.
The EVO bikes (built to a cheaper spec, and expected to be mandated for all teams in the future) proved surprisingly fast, with both Davide Salom and Nicolo Canepa running comfortably in the top 10.
The Supersport race was as dramatic as the WSB grids, particularly as Jules Cluzel took his Yakhnich Motorsport MV Agusta RC to MV’s first world championship win since Giacomo Agostini’s 500 cc victory at the Nurburgring in 1976.
The race was red flagged during the eighth lap due to oil laid on track by Jack Kennedy’s CIA Insurance Honda CBR 600 RR. A new five-lap race started after the track clean-up, with leaders Kenan Sofuoglu(Mahi Racing Team India Kawasaki) and Michael van Der Mark (Pata Honda World Supersport), crashing out on the second lap.
With two of the favourites out of the race, a spectacular five-way battle for the win took place up to the finish line, with Cluzel edging Kev Coghlan (DMC-Panavto Yamaha) and Raffaele De Rosa (Core PTR Honda), second and third respectively.
World Championship Point Standings after one of 14 events (two of 28 races)
1. Sylvain Guintoli, France, Factory Aprilia Racing, 41 points
2. Loris Baz, France, Kawasaki Racing Team, 31 points
3. Marco Melandri, Italy, Factory Aprilia Racing, 28
4. Davide Giugliano, Italy, Ducati Superbike Team, 26
5. TIE, Tom Sykes, U.K., Kawasaki Racing Team / Eugene Laverty, U.K. Voltcom Crescent Suzuki, 25
7. Jonathon Rea, U.K., Pata Honda World Superbike Team, 21
8. Chaz Davies, U.K., Ducati Superbike Team, 17
9. Davide Salom, Spain, KRT Kawasaki EVO, 13
10. Nicolo Canepa, Italy, Althea Superbike Team Ducati, 11
Next event, April 13, Aragon Circuit, Spain.