WorldSBK, Phillip Island, day 3 race roundup: World Superbike, World Supersport
After the announcement on Saturday that Race 2 of #AusWorldSBK would be a flag to flag with a maximum of 12 laps allowed on one set of tyres, the scene was set for a showdown with a difference and Sunday didn’t disappoint. After a huge fight at the front off the line, the battle incredibly resumed full force after the stop – and by the end, a three-rider battle to decide the podium order saw Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) complete the double by just hundredths of a second.
Off the line it was reigning Champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) who took the holeshot, but the field remained tightly packed together in a close fight throughout the top ten. Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) was then able to get past and get away, pushing hard at the front in an impressive show of pace, but it wasn’t to be as the Irishman then crashed out of contention and left the big group to fight it out at the front.
After Laverty’s fall, Rea, Melandri, Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Leon Camier (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team), Xavi Fores (Barni Racing Team) and Pata Yamaha WorldSBK duo Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes were locked in all-out war – and the laps were ticking down towards the mandatory time to make their pitstop.
The first three riders to pit out the lead group were Fores, Rea and van der Mark, with the trio piling into pitlane as the battle remained raging at the front. Davies, Melandri, Lowes and Camier kept it pinned as the three former leaders in pitlane waited the mandatory pit intervention time out, before next time around Davies led the four of the second wave in. Heading out pitlane as the other three blasted down the main straight, the group incredibly reformed almost exactly as it had been but with Davies ahead – and there were just nine uninterrupted laps left.
If the fight wasn’t enough drama already, there was more soon on the way as Race 1 podium finisher and perennial title contender Davies suddenly slid out the lead – having just gained a sliver of daylight between himself and the chasing pack. Rider ok but unable to rejoin, that left Independent Team rider Xavi Fores leading the way, with Rea, Sykes, Melandri, van der Mark, Lowes and Camier concertinaing and tousling for position in the tight battle behind.
As a gap began to appear and Rea appeared to have been able to pull away, the big mover was Melandri and the Italian was far from done. After his stunning Race 1 win managed to perfection, Race 2 was a different animal and the Italian sliced his way through towards the front, passing Sykes into Turn 1 and the Englishman then dropping back slightly as he got stood up. As the last lap dawned, it was Rea leading Melandri and Fores, and the stage was set.
Not quite close enough to make it work into Turn 1, Melandri kept his head down and edged closer to the Kawasaki ahead of him – not quite able to make a move at the hairpin or Lukey Heights, but tagged right onto the back of Rea. Tucking in behind the Kawasaki and catapulting himself out the final corner, the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati rider slipstreamed it to perfection before pulling out alongside Rea, incredibly just able to take it over the line with a photo finish so close, the Ducati box put the pause on their celebrations until the result was confirmed.
Fores completed the podium, with Sykes putting together another solid result at the Island – following his best ever result at the track the day before – to come home fourth. Fifth was another good haul of points for Alex Lowes, who crossed the line ahead of Camier and van der Mark.
Jordi Torres (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) took eighth and got some points on the board after retiring from Race 1, ahead of Loris Baz (GULF ALTHEA BMW Racing Team) on his returning weekend and a first top ten result for rookie Toprak Razgatlioglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing).
Roman Ramos (Team GoEleven Kawasaki) kept his reputation for consistency going in P11, just ahead of fellow Independent Team rider Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing Verdnatura). American Jake Gagne (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team) took thirteenth after bouncing back from a crash earlier in the race, with PJ Jacobsen (TripleM Honda World Superbike Team) and Laverty, able to rejoin but two laps down, completing the fastest fifteen.
So after opening the season with a double, that makes Melandri the first key Championship leader of the year, but Rea’s 20 points for second in Race 2 were a good bounce back following late issues in Race 1 and a fifth at the flag. Sykes is second in the title fight as it stands, however – and next up it’s all change at Chang International Circuit in Buriram.
Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) took an emphatic first win of the season at Phillip Island as the reigning Champion took the holeshot and streaked away from the pack in an impressive show of pace. But the podium battle was a three-way scrap for honours, with 2016 Phillip Island winner Randy Krummenacher (BARDAHL Evans Bros. WorldSSP Team) crossing the line just clear of a drag to the line between Sandro Cortese (Kallio Racing) and Federico Caricasulo (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) – with Cortese just ahead to begin his World Supersport career on the rostrum.
There was drama from the off for WorldSSP, with the first attempt at the race Red Flagged due to a crash after a handful of laps. Ant West (EAB Antwest Racing) wasn’t able to restart after a technical problem, but Hikari Okubo (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) was despite an early crash for the Japanese rider. West was unable to make it back to the pits; something required in order to be allowed to restart.
With the grid reset into original positions, the race distance was shortened to nine laps – taking away the necessity for a pitstop that had been originally announced on Saturday for safety reasons – and the all-out sprint saw reigning Champion Mahias and key rival Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) dueling off the line; the Frenchman able to take the lead. Sofuoglu slotted into second with Caricasulo and Krummenacher just behind, before the Turk began to fade as the laps ticked on.
The battle for the podium wasn’t set as a duel, however, as Cortese sliced through the field after a tough start and was catching the two men ahead with some serious speed. By the last lap, Krummenacher had just enough clear air to take second – and 2012 Moto3™ Champion Cortese timed his attack to perfection out the final corner, tucked in behind Caricasulo to beat the Italian over the line by centimeters.
Luke Stapleford (Profile Racing) took fifth on his Triumph after a fantastic first race of the season, a comfortable margin ahead of the first MV Agusta of Italian Raffaele De Rosa (MV Agusta Reparto Corse by Vamag), with Jules Cluzel (NRT) in seventh. Cluzel, a two-time winner in the class at Phillip Island, had an early run off that dropped him well down the order and almost outside the points – but the Frenchman sliced back through the field to make up seven positions in fewer laps and head up a group of four riders close over the line.
Kyle Smith (GEMAR Team Lorini) was P8 and next in that group, his Honda making it four manufacturers in the top ten. That top ten was completed by Ayrton Badovini (MV Agusta Reparto Corse by Vamag) and Thomas Gradinger (NRT).
Niki Tuuli (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) and Loris Cresson (Kallio Racing) were P11 and P12, ahead of five-time World Champion Sofuoglu by the flag. After his early pace fighting at the front, the Turkish rider dropped back in the latter stages, feeling the effects of a big crash on Saturday morning that hampered the start of his mission to take back the crown. His teammate Okubo was P14 and just behind him, with an even smaller gap of just hundredths back to the rider completing the top fifteen, Tom Toparis (Cube Racing) – the wildcard entrant beating off some experienced competition to impress.
Now it’s time for Thailand and Buriram: a whole new challenge, a completely different track and much higher temperatures. Can Mahias do it again? Or will Sofuoglu strike back…