Bulega takes first WorldSSP win in a re….restarted chaotic race in Australia
Three different manufacturers made their way down Gardner Straight to line up on the front row of the grid for the opening race of the 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season. Before it was lights out for the first time, clouds were heavily looming and rain was starting to drop.
As the riders made their way around for the sighting lap, rain was evidently hitting the camera screens making it a near carbon copy of Round 12 last year.
Nicolo Bulega [Aruba.it Racing WorldSSP Team] made the holeshot from P4 on the grid followed by Race 1 Winner in 2022 Yari Montella [Barni Spark Racing Team], while Oli Bayliss made a strong start to fight through to pack to third place on the opening lap.
It was evident the rain was falling heavier and riders were tip-toeing around the 4.445km Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit and surprisingly, the order of riders took a near halfway switch – with John McPhee [Vince64 by Puccetti Racing] making up 17 spots on the grid to slot into P3.
The Red Flag unfortunately came out with 15 laps to go after a crash from Yari Montella and Adrian Huertas [MTM Kawasaki] at Turn 7. Riders were taken straight to the medical centre and where Montella was unfortunately later diagnosed with a left collarbone fracture.
A 12-lap restart from the starting positions as per the rider order on Lap 3 were announced, meaning it would be the #61 machine of Can Oncu starting on Pole Position, followed by Glenn van Straalen [EAB Racing Team] and John McPhee. Bayliss managed to capitalise on this, jumping up to P10 on the starting grid for the 12-lap Race 1 restart, with Nicolo Bulega and Stefano Manzi nowhere in sight.
The rain was falling the heaviest it has so far this weekend which once again saw a re….re-start of the first WorldSSP Race of the 2023 season.
Can Oncu and John McPhee lined up on the front row with wets while second place van Straalen opted to stay out on slicks for the newly-revised 10 lap race. But, disaster struck before the lights went out once again, as the new Pole Sitter Can Oncu crashed out on the third warm up lap of Race 1 of WorldSSP. Oncu was luckily uninjured, meaning no further delays occurring.
The race finally got underway, and it was John McPhee who got off to a flying to start to lead the way in sketchy conditions, but Nicolo Bulega [Aruba Racing WorldSSP Team] knew he had to fight early to secure his first race win in WorldSSP.
Bulega made the move stick going into MG, where he pulled an impressive 1.5 second lead with 8 laps to go from McPhee. Further behind, there was a six rider tussle for third place happening behind between Nicolas Spinelli [VFT Racing Yamaha], Marcel Schroetter [MV Agusta Reparto Corse], Tarran Mackenzie [MIE-MS Racing Honda Team], Andrea Mantovani [Evan Bros. WorldSSP Yamaha Team], Stefano Manzi [Ten Kate Racing Yamaha], and Niki Tuuli [Dynavolt Triumph].
Manzi and Spinelli were the two standout riders of the group who managed to break away and make a charge for the leading duo of Bulega and McPhee. Ultimately, it was Spinelli who came out charging for the podium, leaving Manzi behind.
Right when we thought Spinelli would settle for third after the chaotic opening laps, Spinelli wanted more.
Riders most likely relieved to see the chequered flag, it was Nicolo Bulega who took home the first race win of the 2023 Word Supersport season – marking both the first race win for Bulega, and the first World Supersport win for Ducati in 15 years.
Continuing to fight right to the chequered flag, Spinelli managed to pass McPhee on the final few laps to bring home second place, with McPhee close behind in third.
From 5th on the initial grid, 19th after two laps, first to the chequered flag, Bulega was lost for words on the podium: “Incredible Saturday. A very difficult race with too many restarts but in the end, this is a first win for me and for Ducati, a big thanks to the team. They did a really incredible job during this winter break and I am incredibly happy. I hope to continue like this.”
It was heartbreak for Oli Bayliss in the D34G Racing garage, who made the gamble on a full slick set up. With rain falling heavier towards the final laps of the race, the Australian still managed to bring it home and see the chequered flag in a very timid final few laps.
Written by Tayla Relph. Images by Russell Colvin