Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Rea has made the best possible start for his new employer Kawasaki by setting pole position for the opening round of the 2015 Superbike World Championship at a sweltering Phillip Island.
It is Rea’s first world superbike pole position at the Australian circuit, and he will be joined on the front row of the grid in tomorrow’s pair of 22-lap races by fellow Britons Chaz Davies (Ducati, 1:31.238) and Leon Haslam (Aprilia, 1:31.507). Rea’s pole-sitting time was 1:31.212, just shy of Davies’ lap record of 1:30.949.
“It was a strange way to end on pole position as the session ended early, but I’m happy with that. But a small part of me wanted to try the Kawasaki with the Q (qualifier) tyre, as it uses that one very well. Anyway, the front row start is what’s important.”
With the top temperature set to rise to 35 degrees tomorrow, tyre conservation is going to be critical for the world superbike brigade.
“Honestly for me, the heat is not so bad. My riding style is quite economical. The problem with the heat is the race is going to be about managing tyres, not really about being the fastest guy.
“But my new Kawasaki team is amazing. I’ve got good tools in the tool box now so I can go about achieving my goals. No-one owes you anything, but I’m confident that I might be able to push for a win tomorrow.”
Rea is just about a bona-fide Phillip Island ‘local’, as his wife, Tatia Weston, was born and bred in the area and he spends large chunks of the off-season there recharging his batteries before the world superbike season gets underway.
The 15-minute Superpole 2 session, fought out between the fastest 10 riders from regulation qualifying and the two pacemakers from Superpole 1, was red-flagged with four minutes remaining after Kawasaki rider David Salom crashed heavily at turn 12 but was fortunate to escape major injury.
The crash completed a dirty afternoon for the Pedercini Kawasaki squad, with Salom’s Aussie teammate Matt Walters also falling a turn one in Superpole 1. Walters was uninjured.
Meanwhile, 2014 world supersport champion Michael van der Mark (Honda, 1:31.613), Alex Lowes (Suzuki, 1:32.042) and Nico Terol (Aprilia, 1:32.081) will be on row two tomorrow, ahead of Jordi Torres (Aprilia, 1:32.243), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki, 1:32.265) and world champion Sylvain Guintoli, 1:32.446), who shared race wins in 2014 with Eugene Laverty.
WSBK returnee, 45 year old Troy Bayliss (1:32.201) will start from 13th on the grid tomorrow, with Melbourne’s Jed Metcher (1:32.727) 15th and Cessnock’s Walters (1:33.477) 18th.
“I’m having a great time out there, I am happy where I am at. I haven’t used a qualifying time in a while, and I’m sure if I had put in another one I would have gone faster again.
“It would have been nice to make Superpole 2, but that’s the way it goes. We will now try a few more set-up things in the morning, and I hope to improve things again.
“I didn’t expect to win against these seasoned riders, but I am having a lot of fun trying!”
Said an ebullient Bayliss, despite a heavy crash this morning at Lukey Heights.
Still, after six years away from world superbike competition, Bayliss’ improvement has been outstanding at Phillip Island, with his best time improving by nearly two seconds from opening practice on Friday.
He has now logged less than 50 laps at Phillip Island this weekend – the sum total of his ‘pre-season’ – while his opponents have accumulated hundreds of laps at race tracks around Europe and at Phillip Island earlier this week.
Melbourne’s Jed Metcher believes that the oppressive conditions could be to his advantage on his Kawasaki.
“You never know, those guys have more horsepower and they might cook their tyres and I’ll end up with a good result. I guess it’s going to be the old Aussie attitude of never giving up.”
Metcher battled engine problems early on Friday, but since then the 24-year-old Eltham rider’s times have been consistently dropping – down to his best ever superbike lap of 1:32.420 in pre-Superpole qualifying.
The two 22-lap world superbike races will be held at noon and 2:10pm respectively, marking 25 years that the production-based series has raced at Phillip Island. Aussie riders have won 23 races during that period, with Bayliss winning six of them – his last victories coming in his last world championship-winning year in 2008.
In world supersport qualifying, Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta) served notice of his intentions to make it two wins in a row at Phillip Island after taking top spot with a time of 1:33.379, with the next eight riders within a second of the Frenchman.
Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) and Lorenzo Zanetti (MV Agusta) were second and third, with Aussie Aiden Wagner (Yamaha) impressing in 12th position. Wagner’s countrymen Glenn Scott (Honda), Alex Phillis (Honda) and Sam Lambert (Triumph) will start from 18th, 20th and 23rd respectively on the 24-bike grid.
Final Qualifying (Superpole results) for round one Superbike World Championship, Phillip Island
February 22, 2015 – race time noon and 2.40pm.
Following find Top Five spots plus Australians
1 65 Jonathan REA GBR Kawasaki Racing Team Kawasaki ZX-10R 1’31.212
2 7 Chaz DAVIES GBR Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team Ducati Panigale R1’31.238
3 91 Leon HASLAM GBR Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils Aprilia RSV4 1’31.507
4 60 Mark VD MARK NED PATA Honda World Superbike Team Honda CBR1000RR SP 1’31.613
5 22 Alex LOWES GBR VOLTCOM Crescent Suzuki Suzuki GSX-R1000 1’32.042
14 21 Troy. BAYLISS AUS Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team Ducati Panigale1’32.201
15 77 Jed. METCHER AUS Race Center – Demolition Plus Kawasaki ZX-10R1’32.727
19 12 Matt WALTERS AUS Team Pedercini Kawasaki ZX-10R 1’33.477