The new racing surface at the internationally renowned Sepang circuit in Malaysia received a copious baptism with the sixth round of 2016 WorldSBK. Dry conditions from the first race on Saturday were swiftly forgotten with downpours that cast the second sprint on Sunday into a murky mire of chance, but it was reigning world champion and Kawasaki Racing Team rider Jonathan Rea that emerged from both outings with a 2-3 and his 100% podium record across twelve dashes in 2016 still intact.
Kawasaki were celebrating a 1-2 on Saturday and it was Rea’s teammate Tom Sykes who turned in one of his most convincing performances of the season to hoist the Ninja ZX-10R onto the top step of the podium. Rea had to play a supporting role. The ever-improving Alex Lowes made a great start from the front row of the first outing but was swiftly hunted by Sykes who sliced tenths of a second away from the lap record in construction of what would be a race-winning margin of superiority. “I really enjoyed the race,” the former champ said. “The bike was giving me plenty of warning, well in advance. We have struggled to some degree over 12 months now, and this is the first time we have come a bit closer. The fact is that we were able to be consistent for race distance, which is very nice. We had a bit of a gap today but everybody will aim to improve and we need to be one of those who also improve.”
Sykes guarded a six second gap from teammate Rea, who was competing with the security of a fresh two-year with the Kawasaki Racing Team, and Ducati’s Chaz Davies.
Come Sunday and the playing field changed dramatically. Sykes struggled to follow the leaders in the wet and would drop to eighth place while the two Ducati’s gave chase to Honda’s Nicky Hayden; the American going on to celebrate his first international race victory since 2006. Rea played it safe and brought the Ninja home in third.
“It is so difficult in a weekend when you have all dry sessions, a dry race one - and then two hours before race two a monsoon comes in!” ‘JR’ said. “I am proud of my team because they were so reactive to the changing conditions. I feel we got it quite close and my bike was giving me quite a lot of feedback out there. Maybe if I had the race again I could have gone with Nicky in the beginning but third was the result we got today and we achieved our target for the weekend. That was to increase our championship lead, so I am happy we did that.”
Disaster for Lowes who crashed and broke his left collarbone…the Yamaha man now faces a race against time to have an operation and be in contention for the seventh round of WorldSBK in the slightly cooler (but maybe no less drier) climes of Donington Park in the UK in two weeks time.