Buriram, Thailand - Works Kawasaki rider Jonathan Rea pulled off an emphatic double win in Round 2 of the World Superbike series, the first to be run at the new Chang International Circuit.
It was the third double of Rea’s WSBK career but his first for Kawasaki.
Multiple SA Superbike champion Greg Gildenhuys, riding a Kawasaki ZX-120R under the Pedercini banner, had a rough day at the office, finishing just out of the points and narrowly escaping being lapped in each race.
Local hero Ratthapark Wilairot (Honda) delighted his home fans with his maiden victory in a close-fought World Supersport race.
Superpole winner Rea led from the start, building up a two-second by the end of lap five and coming in 6.329sec clear at the flag.
Former champion Tom Sykes made a great start from the second row, shadowing his team-ate for the first few laps before he was passed by factory Aprilia of Leon Haslam who then set off after Rea.
As the leading two eased away, and intense battle for third raged between Sykes, front row qualifier Alex Lowes (Suzuki), Chaz Davies (Ducati) and World Superbike rookie Jordi Torres on the second works Aprilia, producing a number of kamikaze overtaking moves - including one that saw Davies crash out of fifth at the and of lap nine, although he was able to remount and finish a hard-earned 11th.
By half distance the gap between the leading two was constant; after Lowes slid out of podium contention at the final turn on lap 13, the battle for third came down to a straight fight between Sykes and Torres, who was looking strong and gradually closing in on the former champion.
In the end, however, Torres ran out of laps, coming in 0.33sec behind Sykes, himself two seconds adrift of second-placed Haslam.
Pata Honda rider Sylvain Guintoli rode a lonely race into fifth, ahead of a remounted Lowes, Matteo Baiocco (Ducati) former multiple world champion Troy Bayliss (standing in for the injured Davide Giugliano on the Aruba Ducati), Gildenhuys’ team-mate David Salom and Leandro Mercado (Ducati).
But even then the drama wasn’t over as Lowes and Bayliss were each penalised one position for overtaking under a yellow flag.
The third double of his career capped a perfect weekend for the Ulsterman, who came off pole to lead every lap of both races and posted the fastest lap in each. Lowes, keen to make up for the error in Race 1 that cost him a podium finish, made a lightning start to slot into second, shadowing Rea for the first half of the race before being passed by Haslam, who notched up his second consecutive second place of the day.
Sykes, on the other works Kawasaki, had a fairly uneventful race to take fifth just behind Torres, who posted another solid result in his debut World Superbike season with fourth, after passing Sykes into Turn 3, two laps from the end.
Clutch problems saw reigning World Champion Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Honda) having to start from the back of the grid after missing the sighting lap. He passed 14 riders in an incredible first lap to come round 12th and eventually finished sixth after getting the better of team-mate Michael van der Mark, who made up for his retirement in Race 1 with a solid seventh.
Baiocco (Ducati) came out on top of a race-long four-way battle for eighth, ahead of Salom, Mercado and Bayliss.
Former champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) took the holeshot, the Turkish rider keen to make up for his mistake in the opening round of the series at Phillip Island, but by lap five championship leader Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta), Kyle Smith (Pata Honda), PJ Jacobsen (Kawasaki) and Wilairot were all over him like a rash.
Lorenzo Zanetti (MV Agusta) crashed out of the top eight at Turn 5 on the eighth lap and was unable to continue, followed a lap later by Smith, who was clearly annoyed with himself.
Cluzel, who’d been leading for most of the race, retired with less than four laps to go, handing Wilairot an emotional first race win in his home country. Jacobsen tried desperately to close down the slender lead of his Thai rival – only to be mugged by the vastly experienced Sofuoglu in the very last corner and having to settle for third.
Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki) scored his first points of the season with a lonely ride to fourth ahead of a jubilant Ratthapong Wilairot (Honda) who, like his elder brother, had the grandstands on their feet as he held off a late charge by veteran Roberto Rolfo (Honda).