Two wins from the first two races of the weekend made Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) the favourite for the third and final race of the opening weekend of the Superbike World Championship in Phillip Island.
Of course, winning the Superpole race earlier in the day gave Bautista pole position for the second full-length race of the weekend, and the power of the Ducati allowed him to make the holeshot. Having gotten through turn four in the lead, it was a clear run for the #19, and it wasn’t long until he had broken clear of the pack. They wouldn’t see him again until the cool-down lap.
Whilst Bautista was escaping at the front, Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) had passed his teammate, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) for second place, whilst Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was attempting to join the battle.
Haslam led Rea and Melandri for around half the race before the reigning World Champion decided to make his move. Rea passed Haslam into turn one with ten laps to go, but was unable to break away. The battle that followed between the KRT teammates allowed Melandri to arrive on the back of the two ZX-10RRs, and it was not long before Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) had joined the scrap as well.
With time running down in the second full-length race of the day, van der Mark made his move on Melandri for fourth, and it was at this point that the two Yamaha riders started to drop back from the Kawasakis.
As the Kawasaki duo escaped from the Yamahas behind, Rea’s advantage over Haslam became more apparent – it simply looked as though he had more tyre left. Haslam had tried to chase Bautista in the first couple of laps, presumably trying to contain the Spaniard’s pace as Rea had tried in the Superpole race. This cost Haslam some grip towards the end of the race and it is this which cost Haslam the second place.
The second place was important for Jonathan Rea. With Bautista being so dominant it was important for the Northern Irishman to do a good job of damage limitation, and to lose only twelve points could be crucial for his championship.
Third place for Leon Haslam was his second of the day after making the same result in the ten-lap Superpole race earlier in the day, and made up for his crash whilst battling with Rea in race one which cost him a shot at the podium. Despite it not being a perfect weekend for the Englishman, Haslam comes away from his return to the World Championship after three years away with two podium finishes – a strong base for the #91 to build from.
Michael van der Mark and Marco Melandri were joined by the end of the race by Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK). It was van der Mark who came out on top of the trio, something important for the Dutchman having been beaten by his stablemates in the two previous races of the weekend.
Lowes managed to make it a Pata Yamaha WorldSBK 4-5 by passing Melandri on the final lap and forcing the Italian to settle for sixth.
The battle between these three riders has the potential to be a very interesting fight this season, with all having an apparently similar level and speed and of course equal machinery.
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) made progress overnight and finished race three in seventh place, 26.823 seconds behind his teammate. It is going to be a long season for Davies, but with the most confidence demanding track on the calendar out of the way, the Welshman will be hoping that it will only get better from here.
Only seven tenths back of Davies was Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK). The German’s performance should not be underestimated were it not for Bautista’s performance on the WorldSBK debut, there would undoubtedly be a lot of attention surrounding the German. Whilst he was twenty-seven seconds back of the winner, Cortese was only twelve seconds away from van der Mark – the top Yamaha – in fourth place, and this is something from which the rookie can take a lot of confidence.
Ninth place went to Eugene Laverty (Team GoEleven), who presumably had the correct amount of pressure in his rear tyre for the final race of the weekend, after being 25% over-inflated in Saturday’s race. Laverty has seemed to make some good progress over the course of the weekend, and to come away with a top ten after a difficult preseason, only 2.3 seconds behind Chaz Davies’ full factory Panigale V4 R is at least something for the thirteen-times WorldSBK race winner and his GoEleven Ducati squad to build from.
Leon Camier will also be happy with his first top ten of the season for the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team. The 2009 BSB champion knows there is still a lot to come from his package for 2019, so will be encouraged by this starting point, although Thailand may provide a more accurate reflection of the reality in a few weeks’ time.
Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) finished in eleventh place, ahead of the BMW Motorrad WorldSBK duo of Markus Reiterberger and Tom Sykes. Both Reiterberger and Sykes had a poor starting position after – particularly for Sykes – compromised Superpole races and coming through the pack when you are severely down on power is not an easy task, especially with the speed of the straight at Phillip Island. Nonetheless it was a surprise to see Reiterberger beating Sykes to the flag. Things aren’t about to get any kinder for the S1000RR riders, either, with the two long straights in Buriram for round two being followed by the downhill drag race in Aragon.
Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) and Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team) rounded out the points finishers for the third race of the season in fourteenth and fifteenth, respectively.
Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Barni Racing Team) was the final classified rider, although a lap down after pitting due to a mechanical problem.
Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) retired in turn two of the first lap with a crash after having to change an under-inflated rear tyre on the starting grid. The wildcard Troy Herfoss (Penrite Honda Racing) was the next to retire, before Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) dropped out with a mechanical.
Featured Image courtesy of Ducati