Champion Rea runner-up in all three outings in new triple-header format.
Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) was unstoppable in today’s Superpole Race and race two of Phillip Island’s FIM Motul Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK) opener, earning victories in both outings to add to his dominant display in race one yesterday.
The first ever Tissot Superpole race saw Bautista creating one more bit of WorldSBK history while on debut, as thehe fast-paced 10-lap encounter was a thriller from lights-out to chequered flag – the perfect way to celebrate the start of a new WorldSBK era!
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) swept majestically into the lead at turn one, race one winner on Saturday, Bautista placed second but was glued to the rear end of the reigning world champion. By the end of the first lap, Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) had come up to third position – briefly taking Bautista for second place, only for the Ducati Panigale V4 R to blast past.
Soon, it was the battle we had all waited to see, with Alvaro Bautista able to conquer Jonathan Rea and pass him down the Gardner Straight. However, unlike in race one on Saturday, the Spaniard was unable to make a break away from Rea, who stayed with him – a completely different story in comparison to the first race of the season yesterday.
Leon Haslam was pushed back briefly to fifth position by Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) but soon managed to retake fourth and then halfway into the Tissot Superpole Race, took back third place from Lowes.
With seven laps to go, Rea pushed ahead of Bautista at turn two, only for the championship leader to push back in front at Turn 4 – the gloves were off with the battle we had all waited to see. Rea briefly took the lead back, but Bautista’s Ducati power soon put him in front at the end of the lap. Rea put a bold move on the 34-year-old at turn one immediately after, like the breath-taking pass he put on Marco Melandri in race two last season.
The battle raged on behind after Haslam had broke away to secure third, as Alex Lowes, Michael van der Mark, Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and teammate Marco Melandri all battled hard. The quartet of Yamaha YZF R1s duked it out and tripped up over each other, ending any chance they had of mounting a top three charge.
On the final lap, Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) wiped out Jordi Torres (Team Pedercini Racing) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) at the infamous turn four.
At the flag, Alvaro Bautista held off Jonathan Rea’s onslaught to take the first ever win in the Tissot Superpole Race to start from pole position in race two. Rea secured second with teammate Leon Haslam completing the top three. Fourth and fifth was credited to Lowes and van der Mark. Australian wildcard Troy Herfoss (Penrite Honda Racing) was 16th.
The final race of the Yamaha Finance Australian round went the way of Bautista, who completed a dream WorldSBK debut. The Spaniard becomes the first rider to win both WorldSBK races on his debut weekend since John Kocinski – also for Ducati – at Misano in 1996.
Initially taking the lead at turn one, Bautista started putting time into Haslam, who managed to pass teammate Rea at Turn 4. van der Mark made a fast start and was fourth whilst Michael Ruben Rinaldi escalated from eighth on the grid into fifth, with Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) remaining sixth.
At turn one on lap two, Eugene Laverty (Team Goeleven) made a brief appearance into sixth, passing Melandri, only for the Italian to repay the compliment to his former WorldSBK teammate. Back in the fight for second position, Haslam began to pull away from Rea, the reigning Champion not having things his own way.
Marco Melandri got his way ahead of van der Mark and immediately set about closing down the KRT pairing of Haslam and Rea. Further up the road, Alvaro Bautista was building his own gap, setting the fastest lap to confirm his relentless pace. The gap between the two Kawasakis was now at 0.5s, with Haslam seemingly able to put distance between Rea. Behind Melandri and van der Mark, Lowes was back into sixth.
Further down the order, Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) was making good progress from 16th on the grid and was now ninth, almost passing Laverty at turn 10 but deciding to wait for another time.
Whilst throughout most of the weekend the rivalry between Bautista and Rea was headlining, Haslam and Rea started to get close on circuit too. From lap seven, the reigning world champ started to close his new teammate down and with just eight laps to go, the Northern Irishman made his move at turn one, only for Haslam to take him back at turn four with a traditional block pass.
This started a succession of nine passes between the pair. Haslam put an audacious Jonathan Rea-style pass on the four-time champion at turn one, with Rea responding immediately almost every time. Behind the squabbling Kawasaki riders, the Yamaha riders of Melandri and van der Mark decided to have their own fight, passing and re-passing, hindering their chances of taking the fight to Rea and Haslam, less than half-a-second up the road at times.
Van der Mark was up to fourth at turn four with four laps to go, although Melandri got back ahead at turn 10. However, despite all of the fighting with the Kawasaki Racing Team and Yamaha riders, Alvaro Bautista was oblivious to the squabbling left in his wake. The 2006 World Champion crossed the line to become a WorldSBK winner for a second time, with the Tissot Superpole Race win also going to the Spanish sensation.
Rea eventually took second place ahead of Haslam, whilst van der Mark finished fourth ahead of teammate Alex Lowes, who put in a stunning late charge to demote Marco Melandri to sixth. Chaz Davies finished a fine seventh place and ended a poor weekend with his best result,
with reigning WorldSSP Champion Sandro Cortese completing the top eight once more. Laverty took ninth place and his joint-best finish of the weekend, whilst rounding out the top 10 was Leon Camier (Moriwaki Althea Honda Team). Herfoss retired from proceedings. The WorldSBK now heads to Thailand for round two on 15-17 March.