The 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is going to be a blockbuster, of that there is no doubt. However, the Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round was something quite spectacular, as new names emerged whilst others sunk despite pre-season hype. So, what did we learn? Nothing. That’s the short answer; it was a weekend that we’ve left with more questions than answers and more uncertainties than many other seasons. In any case, we put the small findings below!
Reigning WorldSSP Champion Nicolo Bulega rewrote history on Saturday as he strolled to victory from pole, perhaps one of the biggest shocks – even if he did look fast in testing. Racing is a different kettle of fish but Bulega, whilst with many things still to learn, was absolutely phenomenal on Saturday and had he not over-conserved on tyres in Race 2 on Sunday, could have been a podium man again. We know he’s going to be fast going forward and Barcelona could be a circuit where he challenges teammate Alvaro Bautista – something nobody’s done whilst the Spaniard’s been on Ducati at the track.
Having been fast throughout testing, there was an element of surprise that Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) converted into meaningful race-pace and a Sunday double in Australia. He had some serious pace in the Free Practice sessions too and with the modifications to the engine for Kawasaki, the ZX-10RR held its own in a straight line too. With a Kawasaki leading the Championship for the first time since 2022, let’s turn to Yamaha and Andrea Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha), who out-shone new recruit Jonathan Rea no end. Two P2s and what could’ve been a race win in Race 2 but for a last lap crash in battle, ‘Loka’ was riding exceptionally well and has clearly gelled instantly with new crew chief Tom O’Kane. Let’s see if it continues in Barcelona, not necessarily a track that Lowes nor Locatelli have shone at before. They have strong pace and you’d have got good odds on both being inside the top three overall after Round 1.
With Jonathan Rea leaving Australia with precisely 0 points and Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) in contention but lacking rear tyre at the end of races – as well as the engine blow-up he suffered in Race 2 – only Alvaro Bautista featured as a real race threat in Australia. The #1, reigning double Champion, was right in contention despite languishing on row three in Superpole. He got himself into contention in Race 1 before Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) ran him wide at Turn 9 and then, when fighting back through, crashed at Turn 10. The Superpole Race saw him strong but he went back at the end and was, ironically, unable to draft by Toprak on the Gardner straight, whilst he was mugged in a final lap classic in Race 2. He didn’t win at Phillip Island and whilst he’s down on meaningful testing, there’s work to do for the #1 going forward.
We’ve already spoken of Bulega but Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) and Sam Lowes had strong races too. Iannone qualified on the front row, grabbed the holeshot in both Race 1 and the Tissot Superpole Race and walked off with a podium and a taste of ‘what could’ve been’ on Sunday morning had it not been for a handlebar grip coming off. For Lowes, a pit-stop drama in Race 1 pushed him outside the top ten but he featured in the leading group throughout the weekend, not easy with him and the team being new to WorldSBK. ‘The Maniac’ was close to a second podium in Race 2 whilst Lowes took a solid P7; Barcelona will be very interesting to keep an eye on those two.
Toprak Razgatlioglu may have stormed to an impressive podium in the Superpole Race to end BMW’s year-and-a-half wait for a podium (in just his second race) but there’s a big picture for the German manufacturer. Toprak wasn’t the only BMW looking strong; teammate Michael van der Mark blasted up the order after a P16 Superpole result to take P7 in Race 1, whilst it was another top ten in Race 2 in P9. Then, Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW), whilst not featuring as high up as he’d have liked, took P9 and P8 in a solid first weekend of the year and because of that, those three BMWs are in the top ten – don’t ask the last time we saw that. The only one that did struggle consistently through the weekend was Gerloff’s teammate Scott Redding: a P11 the only thing to write home about. As BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director Marc Bongers said, they can leave “satisfied”.
Social media was alive with reaction on Saturday and Sunday to the new era of World Superbike and we got the start we wanted and somewhat deserved. The new rules have clearly worked and the shake-up on the grid has really jumbled up the order. Those who struggled will come good, those who were strong Down Under will come undone at some point. We really are in for a vintage year of racing but we knew that anyway. Perhaps that’s the only thing we really can learn from Phillip Island: that in racing, it’s going to be as wild as we all hoped.
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