We’re often a little guilty of hyping up the World Superbike Championship as we head into a fresh season.
Since the bosses began changing rules, regulations and grid formats, we’ve been desperately hoping that “this year will be the year things get interesting” – and that it would be a year that saw somebody else other than Kawasaki and Ducati fighting for honours. Phillip Island is always a great race, and with the new rev limits and other concessions, I had hoped (blindly and with more than a little desperation) that the first race of 2018 would be the start of something radically different.
I was wrong.
Superpole Two did get us off to a good start despite a predictable Kawasaki and Tom Sykes on pole. Excitingly, Eugene Laverty injected himself into the mix on the Milwaukee Aprilia between Sykes and the Italian Marco Melandri on the Ducati, so despite it not being entirely unpredictable – with Sykes on the Kawasaki yet again leading the charge – Laverty’s spanner in the works by qualifying second quickest threatened to upset the balance a little, followed as he was by Melandri, Lowes and Chaz Davies. This also meant that reigning World Champion Jonathan Rea started from the back of the second row. So that was potentially exciting (although he has come from behind to win from further back within the pack before.)
Into the race and it was – predictably – Sykes who led for the majority, constantly pulling a gap at the front. Surprise superpole placement Laverty soon got pushed backwards, and it was the Ducati of Melandri who pelted forward until there were only four laps left. It was from here that he pushed in front of Sykes and went on to win the race.
But as the Italian pushed forward, Sykes’ stablemate and current World Champion Rea fell backwards. Presumably plagued with tyre issues, he fell from third to fifth as he let Davies and Xavi Fores through, and finished the race without the important, first blood and championship lead.
Tyre issues have become such a problem this weekend that race officials have announced that both WorldSBK and WorldSSP will run as flag to flag races. In WorldSBK, the second race of the weekend will be 22 laps long and riders will have to enter the pits to change the rear tyre at the end of lap 10, 11 or 12; the dry rear tyre is unable to do more than 12 laps, and any rider doing more than this will be black flagged.
Although the reason for this is primarily for safety, perhaps it will shake things up a bit for race two… We can only hope.
World Superbike Race One:
1. Marco Melandri – Aruba.it Racing Ducati – 33:40.354
2. Tom Sykes – Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK + 1.180
3. Chaz Davies – Aruba,it Racing Ducati + 9.255
4. Xavi Fores – Barni Racing Team + 9.821 (top independent)
5. Jonathan Rea – Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK + 13.896
6. Alex Lowes – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team + 17.028
7. Leon Camier – Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team + 21.514
8. Eugene Laverty – Milwaukee Aprilia + 23.662
9. Michael van der Mark – Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team + 27.430
10. Leandro Mercado – Orelac Racing VerdNatura + 27.446