Last weekend saw the 2016 motorcycle racing season burst into life with the opening round of the World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island, Australia.
As expected, both races were exceptional and whilst it was only round one, a few markers were certainly laid down for the year ahead. So, what did we learn?
Johnny be good:
Reigning world champion Jonathan Rea carried on from where he left off in 2015 at Phillip Island with a dominant double victory. But it wasn’t just the fact that he won both races that was impressive, it was the way in which he did.
To say he was in imperious form would have been an understatement and he never once looked flustered or in any danger of losing out at the chequered flag. Measured, calm, methodical and clinical are just some of the descriptive words that could be used to describe his performance.
He looked totally in control of the situation throughout and made the other riders look like they were riding on the edge and running out of ideas. It may only have been round one, but Rea’s form and class fired an ominous warning to all his rivals and that he intends to keep hold of the number one plate for a good while yet.
Michael makes his mark:
One of the youngest riders in the field, Dutchman Michael van der Mark is in his second season in WSB and whilst he showed glimpse of what he could do in 2015, his performances in Australia indicate he’s going to be much more of a major force this time around.
Aggressive and spectacular, van der Mark was also in control and he made sure Rea and Chaz Davies had to work hard right until the very end of each race, deservedly claiming his two podiums and an early second place in the Championship table.
It’s been a long time since Holland had a genuine World Championship contender, in any class, but in van der Mark they might have just found it. A lot will depend on how the ageing Honda Fireblade fairs from circuit to circuit but where it lacks in performance, the 23-year old will make up for it in effort and determination.
Davies set to challenge Rea:
He may have crashed out of the second race whilst attempting to take the race win but the form of Chaz Davies and Ducati showed they could well be the combination to give Rea his greatest challenge.
The Ducati looked more evenly matched to the Kawasaki although it was lacking a little in top end speed but Davies has been around a long time now and had it not been for that second race fall, he’d be sitting pretty behind Rea.
He’s already 24 points behind Rea though and, daft as it sounds given there’s 24 more races to go, he can’t afford to make any mistakes over the next few rounds. He needs to convert his pace into results and start clawing the deficit back immediately before Rea gets up a head of steam like last season.
Davide Giugliano looked back to his aggressive best after an injury-hit 2015 and third and fourth showed he’s going to be in the mix throughout the year ahead and give Ducati a double pronged attack on the title.
Nicky Hayden was making his first full time appearance in the class and although he would have been disappointed with an opening race ninth, a much more competitive fourth in the second gives him plenty to work with. He’s also now well aware of the standard of competition so it will be interesting to see how his season progresses.
The Yamahas of Sylvain Guintoli and Alex Lowes showed good pace with Guintoli impressing on his way to a pair of top six finishes whilst former Champion Tom Sykes could only manage fifth and sixth from the two races.
The Huddersfield rider had bagged pole position and although the Phillip Island circuit has never been the kindest to him, he would have expected a lot more. Like Davies, he’ll need to start beating team-mate Rea if he’s to get his hands on the title again and the sooner the better.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.