2018 Superbike World Championship Round 1 - Race 1:
The opening race of the 2018 WorldSBK Championship saw official KRT riders Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea finish in second and fifth places respectively, with Sykes leading for 18 of the 22 laps. Sykes’ second place today took his tally of podium finishes in WorldSBK to 101 – 100 of them on Kawasaki machinery.
For most of the opening race of the 2018 season Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea were in podium positions on their official Ninja ZX-10RRs, until the last few laps when Sykes lost a few vital tenths due to a drop in rear traction in the high winds. Rea had more serious issues and slowed quite dramatically as his rear tyre blistered and he went from second place to fifth, almost pulling into the pits at one stage to retire.
Sykes had started the first race of the Phillip Island weekend from pole position, having won the first Superpole contest of the year earlier in the day. It was his 43rdcareer Superpole success, making him equal best-ever WorldSBK qualifier alongside Australian legend Troy Corser.
Out front in the race Sykes pulled out a strong lead from the start, heading up Rea by over a second after one lap of the 4.445km circuit. He extended that lead to over 1.5 seconds, but them Rea and eventual race winner Marco Melandri drew themselves closer and closer. Sykes defended his position by responding to his pit board signals but after Rea dropped back and Sykes started to lose the very best of his rear traction, Melandri took the lead with four laps to go.
Sykes scored a strong second place in the final result, over eight seconds ahead of the third placed rider, with Rea being forced into giving up two more places at the flag, to earn a hard-won fifth place finish.
The second race of the new season is scheduled for 15.00 hours on Sunday 25thFebruary.
Tom Sykes, stated: “I was smiling from start to finish. I had a good launch off the line on the Ninja ZX-10RR and I was really happy with the race package. We had done out homework in the test, and in free practice when we used one set of tyres for two sessions. Today, with the heavy wind, I was not able to finish some of the corners as efficiently as yesterday in practice. Ultimately, that is what put the rear tyre in a kind of fatigue mode with five laps to go. Shortly after that point we started suffering with the front in turn three, and in places like the last turn. Tomorrow is another day and I am quietly confident.”
Jonathan Rea, stated: “I had a blister in the rear tyre from around lap 16 which was really unfortunate because until that point I felt quite good with the bike. It is a double edged sword because, of course, the tyre did not stand up to the job and the way I was riding, but also the way I have been riding is not 100% natural right now. I am still trying to find a good way. We have been changing the bike quite a lot to feel really comfortable. We could not make it happen. The vibrations were that much that I kept thinking I was going to crash, like Donington. It crossed my mind to come into the pits and pull out but I just nursed it through all the lefts and finished the race to salvage some points.”
2018 Superbike World Championship Round 1 - Race 2:
After a change in the regular race two format, from a straight 22-laps to a flag-to-flag contest with mandatory pit stops at half race distance, KRT’s WorldSBK riders Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes finished second and fourth respectively. Rea’s second place today made it 350 podium finishes for Kawasaki riders since the start of the championship in 1988.
As a safety precaution to make sure that the race tyre options would go for full race distance, the second 22-lap race at the 4.445km long Phillip Island was split into two parts, with riders forced to enter pitlane for a new rear tyre during a window of three laps in the middle of the race, and having to adhere to the standard 63 second pit intervention time, which is the minimum every rider has to spend in pit lane during his tyre change at this circuit.
From the off, and starting on the front row after finishing race one in fifth place, Rea was with the front group and took over the lead on lap 20. With a lower rev limit of 14,100rpm this year for the Ninja ZX-10RR, under new technical rules for the class, Rea could not quite make his last lap leading position count at the end of the long straight. Despite leading into the final corner the three-time champion was beaten by only 0.021 seconds after a unique and often breathless second WorldSBK contest of the season.
Sykes, starting from the third row of the race after his race one podium finish on Saturday, was also in the leading group, pitting at a different time from Rea for a new rear tyre. Tom lost some degree of performance and he finished fourth at the flag, and still just 1.488 seconds from the win.
In the championship itself double race winner Marco Melandri has 50 points, Sykes 33 points and Rea 31.
On a month’s time the WorldSBK paddock will reconvene for the second round of the championship in Buriram, Thailand, between 23rd and 25th March.
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “My only chance to win the race was to try and be in the lead out of the last corner. On the penultimate lap and during the race they were passing me on the straight. When I got passed by Marco into T1 I just thought ‘I am going to let the brakes off and go right down the apex and see what happens!’ I wanted to put together the best last lap I could but all weekend we have been struggling with fourth gear. It was too long for that corner and we did not have enough drive on the exit. I could not get it done today and I made a bit of a mess of my pit exit. I completely forgot to change into second gear to release the pit rev limiter and both van der Mark and Fores came past me, so I lost track position. When we came round there were already a few riders ahead so I gave myself some work to do. I am happy to turn the page and start afresh in Thailand.”
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “In one respect it has been very successful weekend and in another I am disappointed because I really felt that that race, potentially, was mine. I had such a good feeling with the bike but unfortunately on lap three we started to have a small technical issue and for some reason the power dropped off in some sectors of the track. Apart from that the general set-up of the bike was spot-on. In one respect we were lucky to get to the end of the race and take the championship points, but honestly I felt a better result was taken away from me. But, I have to be upbeat because it is Phillip Island in windy conditions. I had a good feeling with the Ninja ZX-10RR this weekend and there are lots of positives to take from this round. I am looking at going to Thailand now and making progress through the season.”
2018 Superbike World Championship Points after Round 1:
- MARCO MELANDR I50 DUCATI
- TOM SYKES 33 KAWASAKI
- JONATHAN REA 31 KAWASAKI
- XAVI FORES 29 DUCATI
- ALEX LOWES 21 YAMAHA
- LEON CAMIER 19 HONDA
- CHAZ DAVIES 16 DUCATI
- MICHAEL VAN DER MARK 16 YAMAHA
- LORIS BAZ 12 BMW
- LEANDRO MERCADO 10 KAWASAKI
- EUGENE LAVERTY 9 APRILIA
- TOPRAK RAZGATLIOGLU 9 KAWASAKI
- JORDI TORRES 8 MV AGUSTA
- ROMÁN RAMOS 7 KAWASAKI
- JAKE GAGNE 7 HONDA
- PJ JACOBSEN 2 HONDA
- ONDREJ JEZEK 1