Island favourite pipped on the line
By Tom Hertig
THE World Superbike Championship has something authentic.
Of course, we come for the beauty of the race and for the noise of engines that give you goose bumps. But the riders are not the only stars of the weekend!
The real star is the bike. Ours, that of others, that of the riders or even the one we saw in the expo and that many were eyeing off and would love to buy. The bike, we arrive and we leave with, we park it when we join the friends and then we discuss it.
Coming to the Phillip Island Grand Prix, I was expecting to see a race and saw much more. I saw passionate people there. It was a great moment of mechanics and conviviality.
Being French it was also nice to see my French flag flying and know we too were represented at this great event.
It wasn’t to be for the French at the World Superbike Championship on Phillip Island this weekend, the races were dominated by Italian Ducati rider Marco Melandri who claimed the double on the weekend, winning both Saturday and Sunday’s races.
Island favourite and reigning world champion Kawasaki rider Jonathan Rae didn’t disappoint his fans either with some gusty racing, battling it out in a spine tingling race to the finish line on Sunday and only being robbed of the win by a scant 0.021 seconds– less than a wheel length.
On top of an already stellar weekend for the oldest rider in the WorldSBK field, the 35-year-old Melandri also set a new lap record of 1m30.848s.
“It was a really crazy race and really difficult to make a plan for the last lap,” said Melandri. “With three or four laps to go I found my speed and rhythm, but then Rea was amazing on the brakes at turn one on the last lap, and very smart at turn two, so I then had to make a revised plan to get past him.
Rea was relieved to finish on the podium after a disappointing fifth place in race one.
“In one sense I am happy to survive here,” said Rea who has been struck with a torrid flu.
“My last two weeks have been crazy. I had surgery two weeks ago on my finger, I had two huge crashes in testing last week, and I’ve been sick since Wednesday – so it was probably the worst preparation I’ve ever had for a first round!
“Phillip Island is a special place though, to throw up an amazing race with lots of riders. I really enjoyed that pit stop finish. I’m sure it was exciting on TV, and the fans here really seemed to enjoy it and the racing was close to the end.”
Impressive Spaniard Xavi Fores (Ducati) was also in the hunt for the win in the final laps, and he claimed the last spot on the podium.
Race two featured a mandatory pit stop between laps 10 and 12 to change rear tyres following concerns about excessive wear after yesterday’s race one.
Some riders also chose to replace front tyres, but there was no doubt the race moved up a gear when all the pit stops were made.
While Fores made the most of the second half of the race, Melandri and Rea moved past him to set up a nerve-wrecking run to the chequered flag.
Melandri leads the championship on 50 points ahead of Sykes (33), Rea (31), Fores (29), Lowes (21), Camier (19), Davies (16) and van der Mark (16).
Aussie hero: Troy Bayliss returns to the fray. Ducati’s Troy Bayliss has completed the first step of his Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) comeback at Phillip Island’s opening round of the 2018 season, finishing in a fine fourth-place overall. Photo supplied by Graeme Brown.
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