Bulega stuns for debut pole ahead of Iannone, first-ever rookie 1-2 on WorldSBK grid

The first session that counts, the first that matters for the larger context of the 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship: Tissot Superpole from the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit and the Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round was electric. With all the hype about unpredictability and the new line-up for this new era, it was a session with stories everywhere you looked. In what is probably the most incredible Superpole session in recent memory to open a season, it was rookie Nicolo Bulega (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) who denied Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) in the closing moments with two rookies lining up 1-2 on the grid for the first time in WorldSBK history.

STORY OF SUPERPOLE: the early laps banked

Every rider hit the track almost instantly, with Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) the first on the circuit ahead of Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati). Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) and teammate and good friend Michael van der Mark went out together. Latching onto the back of them, Scott Redding (Bonovo Action BMW), who did the same in the Jerez test in January, leading to a fallout between the Dutchman and the #45. Gerloff went top having allowed Bautista through on him for track position but it was all about to change.

After the first laps, Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) was top and with a new lap record, even faster than during the Official Test, ahead of Nicolo Bulega and Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team). Bautista had slipped to P12 and behind the Independent Ducati of Andrea Iannone, whereas Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) struggled in P15. With the first run done with eight minutes to go, van der Mark hadn’t set a lap time after crashing at Turn 4 but he was OK.

SECOND STINT: Yamaha work together as times tumble more

Andrea Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) was the first out with teammate Rea in tow, with just seven minutes remaining – Rea didn’t look particularly enamoured in pitlane. On their first flying lap of the second stint, there was plenty of riders who were exiting pitlane and by the time Rea got to Turn 4, he suffered a big moment with teammate ‘Loka’ dropping him but the lap was still good enough for provisional P6. Meanwhile, Bautista was now down in P13 before firing himself into P5 provisionally, with just three minutes to go.

THE CRAZIEST FRONT ROW: two rookies as Bulega does a 1’27 ahead of Iannone

However, there were red sectors everywhere and soon, ‘The Maniac’ was coming to play. Iannone blasted into provisional pole position, much to the delight of the entire Team GoEleven box. However, it was Bulega who came through to pip him, before the Italian then went faster again for the first ever 1’27 lap of Phillip Island in WorldSBK with a 1’27.916. Iannone took second for a rookie 1-2 as well as an Italian and a Ducati 1-2, with Britain’s Alex Lowes in third and just over three tenths adrift.

Bulega becomes the first rookie to set pole position in WorldSBK since Ben Spies at Phillip Island back in 2009 for Yamaha, as well as the first rider in history to achieve back-to-back poles in WorldSSP and WorldSBK in consecutive events. He is also the first Italian rider on pole EVER at Phillip Island in WorldSBK. It’s also the first time ever that rookies will line-up 1-2 in WorldSBK history, whilst it is the first time in 31 years (and second ever) with two Italians on Ducatis 1-2 on the grid. The last time was with Mauro Lucchiari and Giancarlo Falappa at Misano in 1993 In 3rd that day? A Kawasaki, like today, with Scott Russell.

BEHIND THE FRONT ROW: Aegerter flies as Toprak seals solid P5

The second row of the grid is a heavyweight one with double WorldSSP Champion Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) in fourth. In his first weekend with BMW, Toprak Razgatlioglu was a solid fifth and right in contention during his first Superpole session with the German manufacturer, albeit 0.009s slower than his Official Test time on Tuesday. His ex-teammate Andrea Locatelli completes the second row in sixth.

THIRD ROW: an Aussie, a strong debut and a Champion at sea

Heading up the third row, home-hero Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) made it three Yamahas inside the top seven, whilst it was a fine eighth place for Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) who fought back after his huge crash in FP3 at Turn 12. One of the biggest shocks was that the winner of eight of the nine races he’s competed on Ducati equipment at Phillip Island, Alvaro Bautista, was only ninth and nearly eight tenths off his rookie teammate. Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team Motocorsa Racing) rounded out the top ten.

ELSEWHERE: Rea struggles to 11th, van der Mark crash leaves him on Row 6

Outside the top ten, it was a tricky first Superpole session in blue for Rea, who was nearly a second off Bulega’s astonishing lap time. Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team), after starting strongly on Friday, could only manage P12, whilst Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) was 13th and best Honda. Garrett Gerloff took 14th and Axel Bassani (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) in 15th. Van der Mark’s crash cost him to leave him 16th, ahead of Brad Ray (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team), Philipp Oettl (GMT94 Yamaha), Scott Redding (Bonovo Action BMW) and Tito Rabat (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) in 20th. Tarran Mackenzie (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda) and teammate Adam Norrodin round out the field.

Top six after WorldSBK Superpole, full results here:

1. Nicolo Bulega (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) 1’27.916s

2. Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) +0.238s

3. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.323s

4. Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) +0.487s

5. Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) +0.604s

6. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) +0.624s

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Source: WorldSBK.com

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