462 DAYS LATER: Montella returns to the top step with thrilling victory, Huertas out before race starts

Yari Montella (Barni Spark Racing Team) started the 2024 FIM Supersport World Championship campaign in the perfect style with an almost-flawless performance at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. The Italian ended a drought of more than 400 days for his two victories in WorldSSP, both coming at this circuit, as he recovered from a poor start to take the first win of the season at the Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round, while polesitter Adrian Huertas (Aruba.it Racing WorldSSP Team) ended before lights went out.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF: Huertas’ race ends before it begins, drama for Montella

There was drama from before lights out as Huertas was taken off the grid, before re-joining after the Warm Up lap but boxing once again. After the race started, Can Oncu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and Glenn van Straalen (Pata Yamaha Ten Kate Racing) came together on the entry to the Southern Loop. The incident was placed under investigation by the FIM Stewards. When the lights went out, Montella – who effectively led the field away – lost momentum as he dropped back despite seemingly moving before the lights went out, allowing Manzi to take the lead as Montella tried to recover from his poor start.

THE VICTORY FIGHT: Montella finds time over Manzi

Manzi had been the race leader in the early stages but lost ground, and positions, to Montella, Marcel Schroetter (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) and Valentin Debise (Evan Bros. WorldSSP Yamaha Team) before the pit window opened on Lap 8. There were split strategies in the lead group, with Manzi and Montella pitting on Lap 8 and Schroetter and Debise a lap later. When it had all played out, Montella had opened a six second gap over his rivals while Schroetter stayed ahead of Manzi, before the #62 came past on Lap 11 to re-claim second place. Meanwhile, Debise’s race had come to an end when he crashed at Turn 6 on Lap 10.

Manzi tried to close the gap to Montella ahead but ended up in a fierce scrap with MV Agusta rider Schroetter, with the German trying to pass Manzi into Turn 4 although the Italian held on. This allowed Montella to create a gap of over seven seconds to the chasing pack as he claimed his second win in WorldSSP, both of which have come at the legendary Australian venue. It gave his Barni Ducati their first win since Imola 2018, when Matteo Ferrari won in STK1000, while it also ended a wait of 462 days for Montella’s victories.

THE BATTLE FOR FOURTH: five riders in just over a second

Behind the top three, an incredible scrap for fourth developed. Federico Caricasulo (Motozoo ME AIR Racing) took fourth on his first race with his new team and manufacturer following his switch from Ducati. He was just 0.704s ahead of home hero Oli Bayliss (D34G Racing WorldSSP Team) in fifth as the Australian secured a career-best fifth place, showing strong pace to kickstart his 2024 campaign. Bahattin Sofuoglu (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) was sixth after starting from the back of the grid due to a tyre pressure infringement. The Turkish star was one of a handful of riders to pit on Lap 10, the final lap of the pit window, and used this to his advantage to take a top six.

Jorge Navarro (WRP-RT Motorsport by SKM-Triumph) and teammate John McPhee got their new adventure off to a stunning start with P7 and P8, with the duo separated by just 0.006s. Lucas Mahias (GMT94 Yamaha) featured in this battle although lost ground at the end, plus the Frenchman received a 1.950s penalty for a Pit Intervention Time infraction, with Mahias’ time in the pit lane coming in at just under the required 78 seconds. Tom Toparis (Stop & Seal Racing) secured a top ten, benefitting from a penalty to Yeray Ruiz (VFT Racing Yamaha). The Spaniard, like Mahias, wasn’t in the pit lane for long enough and he had 1.750s added to his time to be classified in 11th.

SECURING POINTS: fighting for the top 15

Anupab Sarmoon (Yamaha Thailand Racing Team) took 12th place, around five seconds back from Ruiz ahead of him in the classification. Marcel Brenner (VIAMO Racing by MTM), returning to the Championship after not securing a full-time seat in 2023, battled with Sarmoon with the pair separated by just under a second. Ondrej Vostatek (PTR Triumph) was 14th with Malaysian rider Khairul Idham Bin Pawi (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda) completing the points on his debut. Krittapat Keankum (Yamaha Thailand Racing Team) took 16th, with the Thai rider penalised 1.550s for a Pit Intervention Time infraction. Niki Tuuli (EAB Racing Team) was classified in 17th and a lap down after he brought his Ducati machine into the pits; he did re-join the race. Van Straalen was classified in 18th and the last classified rider.

BALDASSARRI RETIRES, DEBISE CRASHES: big name retirements from Race 1

Aside from Oncu and Huertas, there were some other huge contenders dropped out of contention. Lorenzo Baldassarri (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) had a technical issue in the second half of the race, while Niccolo Antonelli (Ecosantagata Althea Racing Team) crashed at Turn 10 at a similar time.  Hikari Okubo’s (Vince64 Racing Team by Puccetti) return ended in the gravel trap at Turn 4 on Lap 7, while Tom Booth-Amos (PTR Triumph) went down at Turn 12; the Brit was taken to the medical centre for a check-up following the crash. Kaito Toba (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team) was the final retirement, crashing at Turn 2 shortly after he received a 3.760s penalty for a Pit Stop Intervention infraction.

The top six from WorldSSP Race 1, full results here. See the fastest laps to set the Race 2 grid here.

1. Yari Montella (Barni Spark Racing Team)

2. Stefano Manzi (Pata Yamaha Ten Kate Racing) +6.666s

3. Marcel Schroetter (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) +6.968s

4. Federico Caricasulo (Motozoo ME AIR Racing) +16.748s

5. Oliver Bayliss (D34G Racing WorldSSP Team) +17.452s

6. Bahattin Sofuoglu (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) +17.580s

A NEW ERA BEGINS: watch WorldSSP Race 2 on Sunday from Australia at 14:30 Local Time (UTC+2) using the WorldSBK VideoPass!

Source: WorldSBK.com

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