I barely had time to rub sleep from my eyes and connect to WorldSBK.com (because of course, I live in a country where there is no live telecast of the race), before the adrenalin gushed through my veins.
I have always loved SBK for its madness, the way the riders race, dipping into their very being to push the limit. And the first race of the season at Phillip Island did not disappoint.
Trust me, if I was the betting sort of gal, I would have lost a lot of money. From the beginning, you could tell that everyone in that pack (and I mean EVERYONE) was determined to get a podium. And that’s the way they raced: to the limit, pushing themselves and their machines. It was hair-raising.
The lead changed hands several times. It started with Marco Melandri, returning to WSBK after a long time away. He was quickly dislodged from his first spot by reigning champion Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki. Rea though had his hands full dealing with three knights—teammate Tom Sykes who was stubborn and refused to go down without a fight, Ducati’s Chaz Davies who was raring at the bit and, surprise, surprise, Alex Lowes on the Yamaha.
To start the season with 25 points is exactly what I needed to do, especially after the end of last season played out and hopefully we can work step by step. It was a strange race, it should have been much faster. But we did what we had to do in the end to get 25 points.
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) finished on the top of the podium
Rea was never really able to make a quick getaway. Instead, he spent his time warding off the ones behind. Davies, coming off a fantastic 2016 when he was one of the top contenders for the throne, did not take prisoners. He moved with an unparalleled ferocity (definitely trademark Davies) and dispensed with competition in a quick, no-fuss manner. But, somehow, he was unable to outwit Rea who stayed ahead right up till the last lap and the last corner.
It was important to get this first race out the way and get some good points on the board. I tried a bit of a different strategy and it didn’t quite work out for the win. In the end I knew it was going to come down to myself and Jonny; but with this being one of our tougher tracks it’s hard to get the strategy right. We’ll have a little think for tonight and see if we can go one better tomorrow.
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati)
Melandri crashed and after getting stuck in the kitty litter gave up his dreams of an Aussie glory, and retired in a graceful fashion.
Lowes has had a tough last year, but demonstrated all the signs of a potential force that can not be discounted this season. He led the race, quite briefly, but finished 4th, over a second behind Rea and 0.032s behind Sykes.
I have to say to finish on the podium, not far behind those two in Phillip Island is a big positive for me. That’s only the third podium I’ve had in this circuit, so it gives me a lot of confidence going forward. I had a couple of warnings very early on and I was able to settle down, but ultimately I did an acceptable race. A podium at Phillip Island is my first target and I hope we can improve on it tomorrow.
Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team)
There is no doubt, if the first race of the season is anything to go by, that we are in for a ride of a lifetime. The lay of the land is clear—Rea eager to take the crown third time in a row, Sykes, hoping to shrug off the dust and regain his rightful place and Davies, somehow always the bridesmaid. It is unfair for me to discount the others. It’s true. The bets and the kid gloves are off this season. There is a championship to be won.
Tomorrow, we dive into the second WSBK race (WSS, of course) complete with a new grid format that will see Lowes start from pole and Rea from 9th. May the best man win.
THE LAY OF THE LAND
1 Jonathan Rea
2 Chaz Davies
3 Tom Sykes
4 Alex Lowes
5 Leon Camier
6 Xavi Fores
7 Jordi Torres
8 Eugene Laverty
9 Michael van der Mark
10 Randy Krummenacher
11 Nicky Hayden
12 Markus Reiterberger
13 Roman Ramos
14 Alex De Angelis
15 Stefan Bradl
16 Ricardo Russi
17 Ayrton Badovini
18 Ondrej Jezek
RET Marco Melandri
RET Josh Brookes
RET Lorenzo Savadori