‘Tis the season to be jolly. Winter is over, motorcycle racing season is upon us. The revs were up, riders in their new teams, new colours, and new leathers were ready for the lights to go out at Phillip Island, and World Superbike racing to get underway for the first time in 2015.
|An action packed opening weekend for WSBK 2015.
With Brits on top throughout testing, along with young guns from far and wide popping up with some staggering pace, it was anyone’s guess who would take the honours yesterday at the Australian circuit. Could Alex Lowes convert his testing success into racing glory? Would Troy Bayliss make a triumphant return to the series he dominated for so many years? Both Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam are on new machinery for 2015 – the final ingredient they need for WSBK stardom at long last?
As race one got going under the blazing Australian sun, Jonathan Rea in his new colours took the holeshot, closely followed in the opening laps by Aprilia duo Haslam and Torres, as well as Chaz Davies, team mate Sykes and reigning World Supersport Champion Michael van der Mark.
By half distance, Rea, Davies and Haslam had managed to drop Aprilia’s Jordi Torres, but a substantial mistake from Haslam on lap 15 allowed Torres to catch Davies and Rea, creating a four way battle for the top spot.
The final few laps produced thrilling action (almost too much to cope with at 1am GMT). A last lap, last corner scrap left the winner to be decided on the home straight with Rea’s Kawasaki just having the legs on Haslam’s RSV4 Aprilia. Davies took his first Phillip Island podium for Ducati, and Jordi Torres produced a fantastic debut finishing in a solid fourth position.
Michael van der Mark held off last year’s championship runner-up Tom Sykes for 5th place, and reigning SBK champion Guintoli, Moto2 exile Nico Terol, Alex Lowes and Leon Camier rounding out the top 10.
‘Read More’ for Race Two, Championship Standings, Rider Reactions, and Tweets of The Weekend!
After the lights went out for race two, it seemed a similar story to race one was about to unfold as Rea, Haslam, Davies, Sykes, vd Mark and Torres lead into the first few corners.
Superbike rookies van der Mark and Jordi Torres were able to run at the front with seemingly more confidence throughout the second outing, before Torres slid off his machine in front of Tom Sykes heading into turn one on lap 18. While van der Mark came off his CBR1000RR in sympathy a lap later. Both uninjured.
This left viewers with another fierce 3-way scrap for the win in the closing laps, with Tom Sykes charging hard behind the leading trio, waiting to pick up the pieces should any mishaps occur.
Rea managed to hold off a resurgent Haslam all the way through the final corner and onto the home straight, but the Derbyshireman managed to utilise every little bit of horsepower from his Aprilia to clinch the win at the line by one hundredth of a second, with Chaz Davies finishing just a tenth further down the road.
Tom Sykes secured a 4th place finish, a good start to his 2015 campaign. While Guintoli bettered Terol for 5th place, with a battered and bruised Randy de Puniet brought his Suzuki home in a commendable 7th place ahead of Camier, Matteo Baiocco and Roman Ramos finishing in the top 10.
Troy Bayliss was unable to trouble the leaders on his return to the series, but produced an almost heroic performance in race one to bring the Aruba Racing Ducati Panigale home in 13th place, and was running well inside the top 10 positions for the initial part of race two, before a technical problem forced the WSBK legend to pit, before going out to make the most of his comeback appearance for the ever supportive Aussie fans, nursing his machine home in 16th.
|Haslam raised a few eyebrows on the Aprilia
Leon Haslam had a stellar first outing on the RSV4 Aprilia, clinching his first race win since Kayalami in 2010: “This race brings back great memories. My last win was at Kyalami in 2010 after a great battle with Rea. My compliments to my team. They did a great job all weekend. In Race 1 I unfortunately made a mistake, but luckily I felt like I had a wide enough margin and I was able to rejoin the pack and finish second in the final dash by just a few thousandths. I started Race 2 even more motivated to win. Despite feeling like I had less “reserve” after the halfway point, everything went according to plan. In the last turn I opened up the throttle at the right time and I realised that I had overtaken Rea straight away right on the finish line. I am truly happy to finally be back on the top step of the podium!”
Jonathan Rea was clearly ecstatic with how his first race with the new team went: “I could not have had a better weekend. The team were not so optimistic about winning races or being on the podium here with the pace of some other bikes but together with Pere, Paolo, Javier, all the guys from Showa, all my mechanics, we worked really hard and never lost sight of our goal, which was to be strong for 22-laps each time. Leon just had more pace today in each race, so race one fell in my hands a little, but I am so happy to be getting out of here with 45 points and starting the season strongly. I did not expect these results at all. We were not the most optimistic so to be just pipped by a small margin in race two, and by my old team-mate Leon, I am happy for him. We did the maximum we could and came away with the maximum points we could have had. I am happy and excited to move on from here with 45 points.”
Consistency has paid off for an elated Chaz Davies: “I’m finally on the podium at Phillip Island, and twice over – having tried every year to get here, I’ve finally done it. I would have liked to be able to do something more but it wasn’t possible, I was just missing a little more drive in the final laps and tried to conserve the tyres as well as I could. I personally have always started the championship a little badly and so this result is extremely important. It confirms that we are starting at a different level with respect to last year, and I was able to stick there with Rea fairly comfortably. We’re worked hard this weekend, concentrated on race distance, and it seems to have paid off. I thank my whole team but also all of the technicians back at Borgo Panigale for their hard work over the winter. The results obtained here are a good base on which to build.”
Troy Bayliss was out to prove that he still ‘has it’ this weekend, what a sterling job he did, too: “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 tyre issue, I think I could have done a lot more. So I don’t know, it’s a pity I didn’t have more time on track, and I didn’t have time to train properly ahead of the event of course, but all in all it’s been a really fun weekend, and in many ways it feels like nothing has changed since 2008. I thank Ducati for giving me the opportunity and also all of the fans and ducatisti for their continued support.”
After dominating the timesheets in testing, Alex Lowes was obviously downbeat with how the race weekend turned out: “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. It’s impossible to point the finger at anyone or anything, 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. Right now I just feel flat but we’ll get back, get re-focused and rebuild for the second round of the Championship. There is still a lot of racing left to do!”
What Have We learned?
|Our man of the meeting – Jordi Torres
Phillip Island has, in recent years, been somewhat of a ‘false start’ for the World Superbike
Championship. With the track, conditions, climate etc. being so different to everywhere else the circus visits, along with the fact that it’s the first race after a heavy testing campaign for most teams, it often throws up a few surprises.
Throughout testing beforehand and over the race weekend, it was interesting to see just how well Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea had adapted to their new machinery. Obviously, both the Aprilia and Kawasaki have prestige and all the bikes on the grid have 2 wheels and a throttle, but while we received many tweets of expectation about Rea being up to race winning pace come race day, not quite as many expected Haslam to run so well on the opening weekend, let alone to clinch his first WSBK victory since 2010. The Derbyshire rider looks like he could be in for his most successful season yet, should he keep his pre-season and opening round form.
The new rules n’ regs brought in this year to make the Superbikes more equal, similarly to the BSB ‘EVO’ revolution from 4 years ago, clearly haven’t quite chopped the legs off the Kawasaki or Aprilia, but the other machines on the grid certainly look to be a lot closer to their pace, not least the Ducati of Chaz Davies. This is the first year that Davies has stayed on the same machinery in successive seasons since his move up into the class, that consistency seemed to pay off this weekend as the Welshman took his first podium(s) at Phillip Island. Let’s hope the former World Supersport Champion and his Italian team can keep the pace, or perhaps go two steps higher on the box in a month’s time at the ‘neutral’ Chang International Circuit.
Michael van der Mark’s rapid pace out of the box wasn’t so surprising when you factor in his previous experience at the Suzuka 8 Hour race on a factory CBR1000RR. However, it was still an impressive showing from the rookie and a big shame he slid off while running well up the sharp end in race two. Can he emulate some of Rea’s successes later in the season? Judging by this weekend’s performance that looks possible. But the CBR still isn’t getting any younger…
Our ‘rider of the meeting award’ however, has to go to Moto2 exile Jordi Torres. From great success in CEV Moto2, to varied performances in the Moto2 World Championship for the last 2 years, no-one would have shot you down if you claimed he would do naff all in 2015. However, it seems that the Red Devils Aprilia squad may have struck gold with the Spanish ‘Kneeground’ sensation. Not only has he shown great raw pace this weekend over one lap, but he looked pretty comfortable running with the podium contenders for the majority of both races, before sliding off in the closing stages of race 2. Could he be a dark horse next time out in Thailand?