British riders have stolen the show at the opening round of the 2015 Superbike World Championship, Swann round at Phillip Island, with Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam sharing first and second places in the two races, pushed all the way by Chaz Davies.
For Australia’s Troy Bayliss, making a celebrated return to world superbike action after seven years away from the island, it was a trying outing on the factory Ducati as he recorded 13-16 results.
Northern Ireland’s Rea (Kawasaki) was the first rider to get a win on the board in 2015 when he won race one, holding off Haslam (Aprilia) by just 0.039 seconds after a pulsating 22 laps.
It was Rea’s maiden victory at Phillip Island, as well as reaching the summit for the first time out with his new employer, Kawasaki.
The breakthrough also came on Rea’s second ‘home’ track, as he’s married to a Phillip Island girl, Tatia Weston, and spends Australian summers at the seaside location.
“I had a bet with myself after I was talking to my team manager this morning and he was being conservative with our targets for this weekend, I knew how I could do a good job and do the team proud.
“Race one was particularly tough. I was thinking it would be like a bicycle race with different people doing some work at the front but no-one seemed to put their nose in the wind too much.
“So I had to consciously look after my tyre and go as slow as I could and stay at the front so it was a really strange race. The last lap when Leon came past I was lucky to have enough rubber to fight with him.”
Rea had his Kawasaki in front for all but one lap of race one, while Haslam had to fight back after exiting stage right on lap 15 at Stoner Corner (turn three), but he quickly rallied to work his way back into the fight for the lead.
Davies was also in the top three for the entire distance, but just couldn’t mount a challenge on the final lap as he completed the podium in front of impressive newcomers Jordi Torres (Aprilia) and Michael van der Mark (Honda).
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki) was sixth after running off the track at turn one on lap, which dropped him well out of the top 10.
In race two, Haslam turned the tables on his former Honda teammate with a stirring come-from behind 0.010-second victory.
Rea led onto Gardner Straight for the last time, but Haslam was able to propel his machine into the top spot just metres from the finish line. It was Haslam’s first victory in five years, the same year he also won at Phillip Island on a Suzuki.
Haslam and Rea completed round one with 45pt hauls, followed by Ducati’s Chaz Davies on 32pts.
“What a fantastic day,”
All the hard work, all the broken bones, all the operations over the past few years – it makes it all up for it just this one victory.
“The biggest thing is I am so happy with the bike and the team. Even if we had finished third or fourth I’m so happy with what we are doing with the bike, the progression, and I think there is so much more still to come.
“As a rider, you always think you are better than everyone else; that is natural. But when you have three or four years of hard work and many crashes you start to doubt yourself and your confidence goes down.
“Now with the new team every lap I do the more confidence I get. By mid-season I should be very happy!”
Davies flashed across the finish line just 0.298 seconds behind Haslam, followed by Sykes, world champion Sylvain Guintoli (Honda) and Nico Terol (Ducati). Davies set the fastest lap of the day in race two – 1:31.725.
At one stage there were about eight riders running line astern in the 22-lapper, but attrition eventually took its toll when Torres and van der Mark crashed out on consecutive laps in the latter stages of the race. Earlier, van der Mark led for five laps as the battle went into a semi holding pattern as riders conserved their tyres before the final onslaught.
Bayliss: Like A Boxer Coming Out Of Retirement
Forty-five-year-old Bayliss was as high as seventh in both races, but faded to finish 13th in the opener and had to enter the pits in race two to change a blistered rear tyre and was out of the points in 16th.
He said he felt like a “boxer coming out of retirement” over the past few days.
“It’s been a strange one to come back after so many years. I did this comeback for a lot of reasons, and in the end I made some really good progress — but still I am actually a little bit pissed off, which proves that I am still a racer!
“To run with the guys I felt really good, but we had some problems with the tyre; Phillip Island can really do that.”
Bayliss said he found it difficult to retire at the top.
“I was basically depressed for two years,
Said Bayliss after he downed tools in 2008.
“But now, after today, I know I can still be fast!”
Bayliss set a best lap of 1m32.117s after only three days on the Panigale R, which was only 0.4 seconds slower than the fastest lap of the day set by his Ducati sidekick, Davies.
“I was pushing hard, but maybe not enough time on the bike to find a set-up that really suits me. Chaz had the same tyre as me and did a great job on it, but in the end it’s all swings and roundabouts.
“Overall, I had a great time riding with everyone and I congratulate the top guys on riding so well.”
Following the withdrawal of Matt Walters (Kawasaki) this morning after three high-speed crashes on Friday and Saturday, Jed Metcher (Kawasaki) was the only other Australian in the WSBK races, and he was 14th in race one before he holed a radiator on the sighting lap of race two. His team managed to replace it but with his engine playing up he pulled into the pits on lap four.
Sykes (23pts) is fourth in the championship after round one, from Guintoli (20), Terol (18), Leon Camier (MV Agusta, 18) and Torres (13).
One of the fancied championship runners, Suzuki’s Alex Lowes, had a disastrous opening round, finishing with a paltry 9-DNF scorecard. He has just 7pts to his name.
Jules Cluzel became the third rider to win back-to-back world supersport races at Phillip Island with an all-the-way success in today’s 18-lap race.
The Frenchman was shadowed by his MV Agusta teammate Lorenzo Zanetti for most of the journey before pulling away in the final few laps and easing his way to a 3.494-second victory, with Gino Rea (Honda) claiming the final spot on the podium after a tough battle with fellow Briton Kyle Smith (Honda).
“It was the perfect weekend for me, my target is the championship and I just concentrated on not making any mistakes.
“It’s actually good to have a fast teammate, and Zanetti definitely pushed hard and made it difficult for me in the middle stages. But I still felt relatively comfortable and was able to take good care of my tyres.”
The two other riders to have won consecutive world supersport races at Phillip Island are Cluzel’s countryman Sebastien Charpentier in 2005-2006 and Kenan Sofuoglu in 2012-2013.
Sofuoglu was battling at the front in today’s race before running off the circuit at turn one on lap six. The three-time world champion then fell back to last before carving his way back to sixth position, with Thai rider Ratthapark Wilairot (Honda) in fifth.
Aussie wildcards Aiden Wagner (Yamaha) and Glenn Scott (Honda) scored world championship points in 13th and 14th, with Alex Phillis (Honda) 17th in the field of 19 finishers.
Darwin’s Sam Lambert (Triumph) was a late withdrawal after a crash in this morning’s warm-up session.
The second round of the world superbike and supersport and titles will be held at a new circuit on the calendar in Thailand from March 20-22.
For times: www.worldsbk.com.au
Superbike World Championship – rd 1 – Phillip Island
WSBK Race One Results
Jonathan Rea (65) (GBR) – Kawasaki
Leon Haslam (91) (GBR) – Aprilia
Chaz Davies (7) (GBR) – Ducati
Jordi Torres (81) (Spain) – Aprilia
Michael Van der Mark (60)(Netherlands) Honda
Tom Sykes (66) (GBR) – Kawasaki
Sylvain Guintoli (1) (France) – Honda
Nicolo Terol (18) (Spain ) – Ducati
Alex Lowes (22) (GBR) – Suzuki
Leon Camier (2) (GBR) – MV Agusta
13. Troy Bayliss (21) (AUS – Taree/Gold Coast ) – Ducati
14. Jed Metcher (77) (AUS – Melbourne) – Kawasaki
WSBK Race two Results
Leon Haslam (91) GBR – Aprilia
Jonathan Rea (65) GBR – Kawasaki
Chaz Davies (7) GBR – Ducati
Tom Sykes (66) GBR – Kawasaki
Sylvain Guintoli (1) France – Honda
Nicolas Terol (18) Spain – Ducati
Randy De Puniet (14) France – Suzuki
Leon Camier (2) – GBR – MV Agusta
Matteo Baiocco (15) – ITA – Ducati
Roman Ramos (40)- Spain – Kawasaki
16 Troy Bayliss (21) – Australia (Taree/Gold Coast) – Ducati (had to pit to change tyres)
RET Jed Metcher (77) -Australia – Melbourne – Kawasaki retired on lap 5
World Supersport race results
Jules Cluzel (16) – France – MV Agusta
Lorenzo Zanetti (87)– Italian – MV Agusta
Gino Rea (4) – GBR – Honda
Australians in WSS race
13. Aiden Wagner (41) – Australia (QLD) – Yamaha
14. Glenn Scott (68) – Australia (NSW Central Coast ) – Honda
17 Alex Phillis (20) – Australia (Melbourne) – Honda