So the first WSBK race of the season was a lot of things, but boring was not one of them. The setting was stunning, there were no seagulls to be seen, the sea was calm and the bikes were ready. Things were no longer that calm though, by the end of the first race of the WSBK season.
The Kawasakis were still strong, with Jonathan Rea displaying his mastery over the ZX-10R and the Hondas. It looks like Kawasaki will not have it that easy this year.
The morning started off with the Superpoles, a bit disconcerting really, but more of that later. looking comfortable and in-control. Tom Sykes, his teammate, not so much, as he struggled to stay with the leaders. But the real story came with the competition, in the form of the Ducatis The first of course was WSBK — with Sykes taking his 31st Superpole. Davide Giugliano and Jonathan Rea took the second and third spots on the grid, with Sylvain Guintoli taking the 4th place.
The race was nothing like the grid line-up. As the lights went off and the riders charged down the start-finish straight, it became apparent that no one was going to have a comfortable win today. Sykes led the race, his teammate close on his heels. They raced, sometimes nearly side-by-side, with Sykes managing to stay, just about. His fortunes changed 7 laps into the race, when Rea passed him smoothly to take the lead.
Sykes started slipping down the order. The riders right behind him were too determined, too fast with a take-no-prisoners attitude. There was Chaz Davies, his teammate Giugliano, and Michael van der Mark, waiting like sharks, quick and eager. All it took was one mistake and Sykes lost his position too fast to even notice. Before we knew it, he was in 6th place, behind Nicky Hayden. He finished 5th.
But the real battle was between the Ducatis and the van der Mark’s Honda. They battled… oh they battled. And through it all, they didn’t lose sight of Rea upfront, right there. The gap was minimal and Rea was hanging on. Davies and Giugliano fought hard every step of the way. There was no room for error, no matter how small; van der Mark was right there to swoop in and take his place.
It was breathless this battle. Overdue and well-fought. It was Davies in the end who took the second place and made it stick. It was obvious that Rea was the target and Davies tried every trick in the book to get past. But Rea did not make way, until the very last lap. As the Kawasaki and the Ducati took the corners, Davies made one-last attempt to take the lead.
He passed Rea but the reigning world champion took his lead back, just in time to cross the finish line and take the first victory of the season. 0.063 seconds separated the two. Michael van der Mark took the much-deserved 3rd place.
Rea later said in the team press release: “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.”
And so it ended, the first race of the season, with the second scheduled for tomorrow, on Sunday. One thing is for sure, there will be some really crazy battles this season!
This is an addition to the schedule and a much-welcome one. Of course, it was no surprise that the winner was Kenan Sofuoglu who will start the race tomorrow at pole. PJ Jacobsen on the Honda took second place with rookie Randy Krummenacher making him the 3rd place on the starting grid. Arch rival Jules Cluzel crashed out and will begin the race from the 8th spot. It will be interesting to see how the MV Agusta rider fares tomorrow.
I know I was excited about the new Superpoles and one race on Saturday. But now, I am not so sure. Qualifyings are thrilling. They define those singular moments that can help racers achieve a perfect lap or a perfect position from where to start a race. They are the build-up to a race, the quiet thrum, right before the burst of energy.There is no instant gratification. You have to wait a whole day to find out how it all comes together.
I loved that this time there were two Superpoles for WSBK and WSS each. But Race 1 right after just felt odd. That mystery of waiting to see what happens on Race Day just wasn’t there.
This was my pet peeve most of last season and I was hoping that it would have sorted itself out this year. Apparently not. I staggered out of bed like a trooper ready to watch Superpoles and then Race 1 at Phillip Island, only to realize, much to my horror that there was no live telecast in India. Let’s not talk about how I managed to see the race.
WSBK Race 2 and the WSS race are scheduled for Sunday, February 28