It could be a sign of the times, certainly a way that WorldSBK has morphed for 2018 according to new technical rules. Or the pulsating scenes at the first round of thirteen in Australia last weekend could be just another feast of action typical of Phillip Island and its high-speed-high-thrills nature.
Ducati’s Marco Melandri may have extended a career of top flight victories to twenty years after his Aussie double (the 35 year old Italian first won in MotoGP aged 15) but it was a close-run affair. Rumbling clouds and rubber were some of the defining factors of this championship-opener where the formbook was cast into the background of the picturesque setting close to Melbourne.
Reigning triple World Champion Jonathan Rea was at the eye of the storm. Light rain created mixed conditions on Saturday and the Pirelli control tyres misbehaved for a number of riders on the grid; Rea badly affected by a blistered rear compound that dropped him out of podium contention and to fifth place. His lowest ranking at ‘PI’ since 2014. “The vibrations were that much that I kept thinking I was going to crash, like Donington ,” No.1 said. “It crossed my mind to come into the pits and pull out but I just nursed it through all the lefts and finished the race to salvage some points.”
The wide-ranging situation forced race organisers to declare Sunday’s second race ‘flag-to-flag’ with a mandatory pitstop to minimise risk from the troublesome tyres. At the second time of asking Rea was part of a throbbing contest to the chequered flag that resulted in a photo finish and the 31 year old ceding victory to Melandri by the length of a motorcycle; two-hundredths of a second. “My only chance to win the race was to try and be in the lead out of the last corner. I could not get it done today and I made a bit of a mess of my pit exit. I am happy to turn the page and start afresh in Thailand.”
Rea walked the second step of the box and sprayed champagne as runner-up, a distinction that teammate Tom Sykes, on the factory Ninja ZX-10RR, achieved on Saturday despite a similar situation with rear grip to Rea. “I was smiling from start to finish,” the Englishman said after his 100th podium result in Kawasaki colours and in an eight-year association with the brand. On Sunday Sykes had a technical issue with his race bike that limited his possibilities to fourth. “In one respect we were lucky to get to the end of the race and take the championship points, but honestly I felt a better result was taken away from me,” #66 said. “But I have to be upbeat because it is Phillip Island in windy conditions. I had a good feeling with the Ninja ZX-10RR this weekend and there are lots of positives to take from this round. I am looking at going to Thailand now and making progress through the season.”
Elsewhere Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes posted a 6-5 to bag some decent points as WorldSBK drifts out of the continent in the coming weeks. A full month will pass before the show heads to the Chang International circuit in Buriram, Thailand.