Jonathan Rea got the defence of his World SuperBike crown off to a perfect start when he took two hard-fought wins at the Yamaha Finance Australian round at Phillip Island.

Jonathan Rea leads race 1

Image by Dorna / worldsbk.com

Race 1

Jonathan Rea has kicked off his title defence with an incredible last lap victory over Ducati rider Chaz Davies, the Kawasaki rider pulling a move around the outside to beat Davies over the line by 0.063 seconds.

After a great getaway for both ZX-10Rs, Sykes and Rea went almost side-by-side into the Southern Loop as the first racing lap of the 2016 season got underway. The lead group off the line was led by the Kawasaki Racing Team pair, with Ducati’s Chaz Davies getting an amazing launch from ninth on the grid to join his teammate Giugliano and Honda rider Michael Van Der Mark in the battle at the front.

Rookie Aprilia rider Lorenzo Savadori was initially the last of the lead group of ten, before Yamaha duo Sylvain Guintoli and Alex Lowes joined Honda rider Nicky Hayden in the push through to join the battle and an eight rider train set off for the line. Sykes lead the group as the Ducatis dueled behind him and Rea, with Flying Dutchman Van Der Mark joining the fight. Sykes, after losing the lead to Rea, then dropped back along with Hayden and the Yamahas of Lowes and Guintoli, leaving the two Aruba.it Ducati riders to tousle with Van Der Mark in the lead group of four, headed by Jonathan Rea.

Rea led the way as the war raged behind him, with the lead group becoming a trio as Davies and Van Der Mark proved the only two able to keep the pace of the reigning Champion. Holding the lead but with two riders breathing down his neck, Rea stayed calm and kept his race rhythm going as those behind continued to play cat and mouse with each other. As the laps ticked down, Davies got closer and started to seriously pressure the Kawasaki rider, seeming to be attempting to test any possible passes he had in mind for the last lap.

On that last lap, Davies pounced down the hill from Lukey Heights, taking the lead just before the final corner, before Rea took the outside line and blasted around the Ducati through the final turn, the two bikes straightening up on the Gardner Straight with almost nothing between them. It was the flash of green that finished first, however, as Rea’s bravery around the outside proved to give him the pace necessary to nudge the nose of the Kawasaki over the line in front, separated by only 0.063 seconds.

Van Der Mark came home third behind the two of them, recording his fourth career podium in only his second season,and local hero Josh Brookes made up for a difficult qualifying session to come home tenth. 2014 WorldSBK Champion Sylvain Guintoli was the first Yamaha home in sixth, showing great potential for the YZF R1 in its first WorldSBK outing, and Leon Camier carried through his form from practice to end the race seventh on his MV Agusta. Jordi Torres on his Althea BMW in eighth ensured there were six manufacturers classified in the top ten.

After the race Jonathan Rea said, “We expected to be strong because I am so lucky with Pere and my guys. I put all my trust in them, we made a strategy for the winter tests in November and it is clear that it worked. To be strong in the race, to control the race from the front at this track, is so difficult. I had a look every lap on the big screen at MG and I could see the size of the group at the front. It eventually dropped to four guys and in the end three. I put my head down with six laps to go and upped the pace but it was still ‘+0’ on my pit board. Then with three to go I made another push and Chaz was still there. I knew the only way to win the race was to close the door at MG, but he blew it completely wide open! I managed to stop the bike and fire it out. It was not a very pretty last sector but we won the race and have 25 points. I am really happy because all our work paid off.”

Sylvain Guintoli at Phillip Island

Race 2

Reigning Champion Jonathan Rea took the first double win at Phillip Island since Carlos Checa in 2011 today as key title rival and last year’s runner up Chaz Davies fought hard on the final lap, in the end losing the front into Turn 4.

It was Tom Sykes on his ZX-10R got the best launch off the line from pole, with teammate Jonny Rea taking Ducati’s Davide Giugliano by the time the WorldSBK field first launched through the Southern Loop. After briefly challenging for the lead, Rea then settled into second as Michael Van Der Mark made a move to take P3 from Giugliano. The Flying Dutchman then had a look down the inside of Rea into T2 before thinking better of it and holding position, the two Ducatis then lead by Chaz Davies close behind and ready to pounce.

Nicky Hayden, initially staring down a gap to the front group, then clawed back the time to the Ducati in front of him and tagged onto the front group. After a few laps staying with those in front, the Kentucky Kid then made a move into T1, Giugliano initially pushed back into P6 until the Italian fought back later in the lap. Hayden took him back once again, before the Ducati rider managed to cut back inside again and claim P5.

With 12 laps to go, Sykes ran wide into T4, opening the door for teammate Rea to go through for the lead. Michael Van Der Mark and Chaz Davies needed no invitation to follow the reigning Champion through, and into Turn 1, Michael Van Der Mark took the lead from Rea into T1, the young Honda rider keeping the position and leading the group of seven riders then joined by Yamaha’s Sylvain Guintoli.

Althea BMW rider Jordi Torres, starting from P12 after an injury in testing, was the rider leading the charge to catch up by the time Giugliano attempted a pass on Sykes and clipped the Yorkshireman’s back wheel. Pushing both the Kawasaki in front and his own Ducati wide, the move from the Italian saw Nicky Hayden and Sylvain Guintoli given the green light to take them both, the Frenchman’s opportunism to grab the position pushing the new Yamaha YZF R1 into the top 5. The battle in the final laps seemed the decisive factor in which of yesterday’s podium sitters in Race 1 would be on the top step today.

Davies then took Rea into T4, before Rea fought back into T1 and blocked the line for his rival in any attempt to repass him into the Southern Loop. Turn 4 looked set to be the scene of another attack on the final lap after that first successful rehearsal, and sure enough Ducati rider Davies tried the move again, unwilling to settle for another P2 after being beaten by big title rival Rea in Race 1. Davies, determined to at least try, found himself sliding off the track into the gravel as the ambition of the move outweighed his stopping distance, sadly seeing the chance of victory slip away.

The move left Rea out in front of Van Der Mark and the Dutchman’s American teammate Nicky Hayden hanging onto third, the Kentucky rookie having improved his management of the Pirelli tyres significantly since his first race and setting very competitive lap times. Stalked by Ducati rider Giugliano throughout the next few corners, it seemed the MotoGP Legend was set for his first podium on his first race weekend in WorldSBK, until Giugliano somehow found space to go past with a spectacular move to just pip the American to the podium.

Buriram is now the next stop for WorldSBK as the paddock heads north to Thailand, the scene of Rea’s first double of 2015, and those chasing the reigning Champion will be sure to fight hard once again as they try and stop the Northern Irishman in his bid to be the first back to back Champion of the new Millenium.

Jonathan Rea said, “It is incredible. We had two really composed races this weekend. I just did my thing and was very patient in both races at the beginning. Today I knew that Chaz would make a move again, a copybook story from yesterday, but he came through when there was no space, went completely wide and, unfortunate for him, he made a mistake. The set-up changes we made between yesterday and today means the team gave me a bike that was quite easy to ride and I was more ready for attacks. Not just in T4 but in many areas. I thank my team for that. We played the strategy game here in Phillip Island and it really paid off. I feel that we are working at around 85-90% of the potential of the machine and I am really proud to give Kawasaki these two wins on the new bike.”

Second place rider Michael van der Mark said, “I got a great start and found myself behind Tom and Johnny. All I wanted in the first part was to save the tyres, so I let them stay ahead. When Tom made a mistake I got up to second place and the pace improved a lot straight away. I didn’t want to lead but I got a good slipstream out of the last corner and passed Rea on the straight. I just tried to do my race at the front but then I saw on the big screen at turn 10 that the group was really big, so I tried to break it a little bit by pushing harder. It did work out, but I knew the last two laps would have been difficult for me. When Johnny and Chaz passed me I could hold on quite OK, I wasn’t really scared of them pulling away. Chaz tried a couple of moves for the lead and the last one didn’t work well; I tried to stay as close as possible to Jonathan but I made a small mistake, he didn’t so that was it. To finish second today is an amazing result, it’s been a great weekend and the team did an incredible job to improve the bike. We couldn’t have had a better start to the season.”