Phillip Island and the Buriram were a study in contrasts.
The first two races of the 2017 WSBK season at the seagull-dotted Australian circuit involved a mad and breathless dash to the finish line with no clear winner till the very end. This weekend’s races, on the other hand, were a meditation in technique and skill, a display of sheer dominance that lay squarely at the door of one man — Jonathan Rea.
Rea established his mastery in the first race on Saturday, hot, steamy Buriram not withstanding. Perhaps his mastery lay in the new pole record that he set earlier that day or the fact that the twists and turns at the Chang International Circuit were no match for his pace. He took off at the start, leaving Marco Melandri, Chaz Davies and Tom Sykes to play catch up throughout the race.
This is my best ever start to the season, I’m feeling good with the bike. I was so nervous about the ninth place start to be honest because this track is so hard to pass, especially with the speed of the Ducati’s. I’m really lucky that I had sector three pretty dialled in, and by T4 I put my head down and managed to snap Marco after three or four laps. This is a massive thanks to all my team, they’ve been working relentlessly so these race wins are for them.” —Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team
Let me be honest. The most exciting part of the race was the battle of the Ducatis and Sykes on his Kawasaki. Rea was just too far ahead with a gap of 6.279s as he crossed the finish line. Davies managed to hold on to his second place, which left Melandri and Sykes to fight for a third. And Sykes made us wait for that sneaky maneuver, which came at the final hour on the last lap and landed him the third place on the podium.
At the end of the day, Rea said, “I felt really good and quite calm … We had a really good pace but Chaz also had a very fast pace, as did Marco, so I had to ride away into T1 to make the holeshot. I wanted to get my head down in T1 and I did it.”
It was obvious on steamy Sunday race day that Rea still felt “really good and quite calm”, despite starting the race from 9th on the grid. Melandri, who was on pole, held on to the lead for four laps. Rea slid past in a masterstroke of racing, leaving the Ducati rider to catch up.
“We struggled all weekend a little bit, I’ve been working hard over the winter to try and overcome some limitations. I just had to change the way I ride and it shows, because on the last lap I did my fastest lap of the race. Today was hot, greasy conditions which normally work against us but we are trying. We kept going until the last lap and managed to get second position so overall not a bad weekend.” —Tom Sykes, Kawasaki Racing Team
Lady Luck, it seemed, was keeping a special eye out for Rea and Davies. Davies lost the front end and went down on lap three. He picked up his bike and rejoined the race at last place. Then, Lorenzo Savadori on his Milwaukee Aprilia, went down in a scary crash (he has since been declared fit for the next race in Aragon). The red flag and the brooms came out and the riders retreated to the pits.
The race restarted and it became obvious that the break would serve some well (others like Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) and Stefan Bradl (Red Bull Honda) not so much). Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha) did not rejoin the race after the restart because of technical problems, as did Randy Krummenacher (Kawasaki Puccetti) and Leon Camier retired towards the end when his MV Agusta started giving trouble.
Davies thrived. He quickly made his way up through the pack and past the others, only to get stuck behind Jordi Torres on his Althea BMW who held steady and strong, blocking Davies’ attempts to get past.
“To be back on the podium is huge, but it was a very tough race, and we were passed two times with the same pass! I was struggling with the front break for the first few laps I knew Sykes was going to pass, because the lever was touching my hand when I was braking, so I knew he was going to be very strong. Thanks to my team and I can’t wait to be back on the podium again.” —Marco Melandri, Aruba.it Racing Ducati
As was inevitable, Rea made a getaway, managing to shake off Melandri and Sykes, and crossing the finish line 4.078s ahead of the chasing pack. His teammate pulled another fast one on Melandri, with a smooth pass in the nth hour. As Sykes later said in his television interview, the Italian won’t be buying him coffee anytime soon.
And so it is that the WSBK circus left Thailand and is now headed to Aragon for the European round. Will Rea reign supreme? He’s showing all the signs. But the season is still young, and, if you ask me, the bets are still off.
1 Jonathan Rea
2 Tom Sykes
3 Marco Melandri
4 Alex Lowes
5 Jordi Torres
6 Chaz Davies
7 Nicky Hayden
8 Xavi Fores
9 Roman Ramos
10 Markus Reiterberger
11 Alex De Angelis
12 Ricardo Russo
13 Ondrej Jezek
14 Ayrton Badovini
15 Eugene Laverty
RET Leon Camier
RET Randy Krummenacher
RET Stefan Bradl
NS Michael van der Mark