WSBK: Double wins for Melandri at opening Phillip Island round
After taking the opening race of the 2018 WorldSBK Championship yesterday, the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati team did the double at Phillip Island (Australia) with Marco Melandri. The race itself went down to the wire and was decided by only 0.021 seconds. It’s Melandri’s 22nd win in WorldSBK, which makes him the most successful Italian in the production-based series. Chaz Davies, on the other hand, rode a strong yet unlucky race, and was forced to retire after crashing during lap 12 at turn 9 while he was in the lead.
Off the line it was reigning Champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) who took the holeshot, but the field remained tightly packed together in a close fight throughout the top ten. Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) was then able to get past and get away, pushing hard at the front in an impressive show of pace, but it wasn’t to be as the Irishman then crashed out of contention and left the big group to fight it out at the front.
After Laverty’s fall, Rea, Melandri, Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Leon Camier (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team), Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team), Xavi Fores (Barni Racing Team) and Pata Yamaha WorldSBK duo Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes were locked in all-out war – and the laps were ticking down towards the mandatory time to make their pitstop.
The first three riders to pit out the lead group were Fores, Rea and van der Mark, with the trio piling into pitlane as the battle remained raging at the front. Davies, Melandri, Lowes and Camier kept it pinned as the three former leaders in pitlane waited the mandatory pit intervention time out, before next time around Davies led the four of the second wave in. Heading out pitlane as the other three blasted down the main straight, the group incredibly reformed almost exactly as it had been but with Davies ahead – and there were just nine uninterrupted laps left.
If the fight wasn’t enough drama already, there was more soon on the way as Race 1 podium finisher and perennial title contender Davies suddenly slid out the lead – having just gained a sliver of daylight between himself and the chasing pack. Rider ok but unable to rejoin, that left Independent Team rider Xavi Fores leading the way, with Rea, Sykes, Melandri, van der Mark, Lowes and Camier concertinaing and tousling for position in the tight battle behind.
As a gap began to appear and Rea appeared to have been able to pull away, the big mover was Melandri and the Italian was far from done. After his stunning Race 1 win managed to perfection, Race 2 was a different animal and the Italian sliced his way through towards the front, passing Sykes into Turn 1 and the Englishman then dropping back slightly as he got stood up. As the last lap dawned, it was Rea leading Melandri and Fores, and the stage was set.
Not quite close enough to make it work into Turn 1, Melandri kept his head down and edged closer to the Kawasaki ahead of him – not quite able to make a move at the hairpin or Lukey Heights, but tagged right onto the back of Rea. Tucking in behind the Kawasaki and catapulting himself out the final corner, the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati rider slipstreamed it to perfection before pulling out alongside Rea, incredibly just able to take it over the line with a photo finish so close, the Ducati box put the pause on their celebrations until the result was confirmed.
Fores completed the podium, with Sykes putting together another solid result at the Island – following his best ever result at the track the day before – to come home fourth. Fifth was another good haul of points for Alex Lowes, who crossed the line ahead of Camier and van der Mark.
Jordi Torres (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) took eighth and got some points on the board after retiring from Race 1, ahead of Loris Baz (GULF ALTHEA BMW Racing Team) on his returning weekend and a first top ten result for rookie Toprak Razgatlioglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing).
Roman Ramos (Team GoEleven Kawasaki) kept his reputation for consistency going in P11, just ahead of fellow Independent Team rider Leandro Mercado (Orelac Racing Verdnatura). American Jake Gagne (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team) took thirteenth after bouncing back from a crash earlier in the race, with PJ Jacobsen (TripleM Honda World Superbike Team) and Laverty, able to rejoin but two laps down, completing the fastest fifteen.
So after opening the season with a double, that makes Melandri the first key Championship leader of the year, but Rea’s 20 points for second in Race 2 were a good bounce back following late issues in Race 1 and a fifth at the flag. Sykes is second in the title fight as it stands, however – and next up it’s all change at Chang International Circuit in Buriram.
P1 – Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati)“It was a really crazy race, a lot of riders could be fast for ten laps and changing the tyre meant we were all together even in the second half of the race. It was difficult to make a plan for the last lap, but luckily with three of four laps to go I found my speed and rhythm. I knew it was so difficult to pass Jonny, especially in braking, because I wasn’t as aggressive as yesterday. But when I tried to pass him on the straight…I thought he would try and answer me back but not so strong, his braking was amazing into Turn 1 then he was very smart in Turn 2. So I started to plan for the last turn because I knew I was coming out of there fast, my Panigale was working great and we have good speed. I just want to say thanks to my team and everybody.”
P2 – Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team)“I’m really happy, especially with the way I’ve been feeling this week. I’ve been sick since Wednesday so to finish second today after what happened yesterday, I’m really happy. The bike was a step better so I want to thank all my crew. With our exit into the straight I knew the only chance I had to win today was to lead onto the straight…but I’m happy to at least make it exciting for the fans out there, they’ve been incredible and every year when I come here I get so much support from Australia so thank you very much. I’m looking forward to moving onto Thailand now, improving myself, getting healthy and getting a good feeling with the bike.”
P3 – Xavi Fores (Barni Racing Team)“It was an amazing race for me, especially when I changed tyres I was able to do a good restart. It was a tricky moment when I decided stop on the first lap I was able to…so after that, I was pushing so hard to lead as much as I did. At the end I made a small mistake in T4, Jonny and Marco overtook me and I wasn’t able to recover that position. But anyway, it’s a very good result for us and to start the championship in this way is more than positive for us – being a private, Independent Team.”