Sepang, Malaysia – Marco Melandri celebrated his first win for the Aprilia Team with another, taking a hard-earned double on a day when he and team-mate Sylvain Guintoli clearly had the legs of the field, at a circuit which had never before hosted a World Superbike weekend.
It was Melandri’s second career double, after winning both races at Brno in 2012 aboard a works BMW.
Sheridan Morais, flying the flag for South Africa on the Iron Brain Kawasaki, as always gave it everything he had and then some, running off the circuit in Race 1 and struggling home 17th in the second leg.
The first-ever World Superbike race at Sepang was a thriller, with Aprilia Team's Marco Melandri and Sylvain Guintoli locked in a duel for the win right down to the wire. The race was incident packed from the start as Loris Baz tangled with his Kawasaki team-mate Tom Sykes, both riders going down and taking with them Alex Lowes (Suzuki) with them.
The multiple crash creating a gap at the front as Guintoli and Melandri, unchallenged, swapped the lead several times, with Melandri in front when it counted, to take his first win as a factory Aprilia rider, by 0.62sec.
Behind the leaders a three-way fight raged with Eugene Laverty (Suzuki) claiming the final podium spot ahead of Chaz Davies (Ducati Team) and Toni Elias (Aprilia).
Sixth went to Honda star Jonathan Rea, who recovered from a bad start to get the better of his team-mate Leon Haslam.
David Salom (Kawasaki) claimed Evo honours with a spirited ride to ninth overall, ahead of Leon Camier (BMW) who rounded out the top 10.
South Africa’s Sheridan Morais qualified 17th but ran a high as 13th during the race, only to run wide in Turn 4 and on lap seven and wind up in the kitty litter. He got back on track, stone last, but retired a lap later.
Melandri made it two for two in front of an enthusiastic Malaysian crowd of 34 000, getting the better of team-mate Guintoli on the final lap as the works Aprilias swopped places three times in the sprint to the line.
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Team) made amends after being taken out in Race 1 to claim the final spot on the podium despite a painful wrist, retaining his lead in the standings while Guintoli moved up top second, only 13 points behind the reigning champion.
Melandri said afterwards: “We really needed this double! Conditions were difficult in Race 1, but I managed to close the gap to Sylvain anyway, and after I got past him I was able to pull away just enough to win.
Race 2 was even harder, as I had to make my through the Kawasakis before I could try to catch my team-mate.
A lot of respect to all the riders in today’s races, because it was really tough to ride in these conditions. I would like to dedicate this double to my girlfriend Manu who is due to give birth soon.”
Sykes was philosophical: “We got a podium and we’re still leading the championship, which is very important. We made a change on the bike after Superpole and in warm-up I was very happy. I had a bit of a problem in Race 2 because I wasn’t able to use my right hand properly, which made the bike a little unstable.
It was tough to see the two guys up front go away because if I was riding fit then I think we could have tried to give them something to think about!”
The race was stopped on lap four when Claudio Corti’s MV Agusta blew its engine and set itself on fire; positions at the end of lap three put Guintoli on pole for the restart, ahead of Aprilia privateer Toni Elias and Melandri.
The restart, over 10 laps, did not disappoint, with the leading five riders locked together until the two factory Aprilia riders eased clear.
Melandri had to take avoiding action as he misjudged his braking point on the second lap, narrowly missing the back of his team-mate Guintoli and Elias – but fortunately everybody stayed aboard, treating the fans to one of the closest finishes of the year so far.
Elias edged Sykes’ team mate Loris Baz for fourth, with Honda star Rea sixth; Leon Camier (BMW) was the top Evo finisher in 12th overall, ahead of Salom.
Morais was unable to salvage any points from a difficult weekend, finishing sixth in the Evo class ad 17th overall in the restart.
Michael van der Mark (Honda) came out the winner in the first World Supersport race at Sepang and extended his lead in the championship after an enthralling battle in the hottest Supersport race of the year, both on and off the track.
Former champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) took the lead at Turn 1 but came under intense pressure from Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta), Van der Mark, veteran Robert Rolfo (Kawasaki) and Vander Mark’s Pata Honda team-mate Lorenzo Zanetti, as the top five riders slowly eased away from the chasing pack.
As the race progressed Sofuoglu dropped slowly back, as did Rolfo and Zanetti, leaving Van der Mark and Cluzel to fight to the flag, with Honda rider getting the better of it in the final corner.
Sofuoglu rounded out the podium, after getting the better of Rolfo, with Zanetti and Ratthapark Wilairot (Honda) completing the top six.
Wild-card rider Zaqhwan Zaidi (Honda) put in a superb ride to finish a well deserved ninth in front of a very enthusiastic local crowd.