Rea, Haslam in Oz WSBK thriller
Phillip Island, Australia – The first round of the 2015 World Superbike series delivered superb battles for line honours in both races between new Kawasaki signing Jonathan Rea, who became the second consecutive rider to win the first race of the year on his maiden outing with new machinery, factory Aprilia rider Leon Haslam and Chaz Davies (Ducati), who rounded out two all-British podiums.
It was déjà vu for MV Agusta rider Jules Cluzel as he won the opening round of the World Supersport championship for the second consecutive year after a race-long dice with new team-mate Lorenzo Zanetti.
Superpole winner Rea got the best of the first-corner melee to set the pace in the opening laps ahead of Haslam and Davies, until Haslam pulled the pin on lap four. After that the leading trio swopped placed 1l times on the way to a photo finish that saw Rea take his first win at Phillip Island by 0.039sec, with Davies less than half a second further adrift in third.
The two World Superbike rookies, Jordi Torres (Aprilia) and reigning World Supersport champion Michael van der Mark (Honda) impressed in their debut encounter in the series by finishing fourth and fifth respectively. Former Moto2 rider Torres looked at times able to challenge for the podium, while Van der Mark slowed down his pace in the last quarter of the race.
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) made a good recovery to finish sixth after running off the circuit on lap six, following an overtaking manoeuvre by Van der Mark. Reigning World Superbike champion Sylvain Guintoli (Honda), Nico Terol (Ducati), Alex Lowes (Suzuki) and Leon Camier (MV Agusta) rounded out the top 10.
Lowes had a hard time catching up after being slowed down by a collision in the early stages of the race, while former three-times World champion Troy Bayliss, standing in for injured Ducati rider Davide Giugliano, ran as high as seventh before eventually fading to 13th
The second race was even closer, with more overtaking move, going right down to the line as Haslam got better drive out of the final corner to win by 0.010sec with Davies a scant 0.298sec further adrift. Ironically enough, the last time Haslam stepped atop the podium was after Race 2 at Kyalami in 2010, when beat Rea by half a second.
Sykes came home fourth ahead of Guintoli, Nico Terol, Randy de Puniet (Suzuki) and Leon Camier (MV Agusta), making it six different manufacturers in the top eight.
Van der Mark ran with the leaders for most of the race, before dropping to fourth on lap 13 and then crashing out at Turn 10 on lap 20, fortunately without injury.
Torres (Aprilia) also fell a lap earlier, losing the front of his RSV4 RF at Turn 1 on lap 19 while he was running fourth.
Bayliss started well, again moving through the field and running as high as seventh until he pitted for a new front tyre on lap 14. He rejoined to finish outside the points in 16th.
Cluzel and Zanetti were joined on the podium by Gino Rea (Honda); the two MVs were involved in a five-way fight for the lead in the early laps before gradually breaking away from what became a three-way dice for third between Rea, World Supersport rookie Kyle Smith and Ratthapark Wilairot (each on a Honda) who rounded out the top five in that order.
Former champion Kenan Sofuoglu’s challenge for the win ended at the start of lap six as he running off the circuit at Turn 1 aboard his Kawasaki, rejoining to finishing sixth after posting the fastest lap of the race on lap seven.
Dominic Schmitter (Kawasaki) finished ninth in his World Supersport debut ahead of similarly-mounted Patrick Jacobsen.