As expected, the thrilling Phillip island circuit in Australia was the perfect setting for the opening round of the 2017 World Superbike Championship and both races saw up to six riders battling it out for the race wins. But, despite of the numerous challengers giving their all, it was reigning champion Jonathan Rea that came out on top in both races to firmly indicate his intentions for the season ahead.
Johnny be good:
If anyone was in any doubt as to who the man to beat in 2017 will be, Phillip Island more than proved it will be Rea. Fastest throughout the winter tests, the Kawasaki man took pole position and grabbed both wins, to make it 40 WSB victories in total, coming through from ninth place and the third row of the grid (thanks to the new-for-2017 rules) in the second.
His pace was clear for all to see but equally clear were his tactics and race management whereby he never got flustered when overtaken and positioned himself perfectly in the final laps to ensure he was in the right place at the right time.
The Northern Irishman is without doubt at the peak of his powers and whilst both races were extremely close – just over a second covering the top five in each race – which suggests the 2017 season may be closer than ever, anyone with aspirations of the title know that to have that number one plate come October, there’ll have to have beaten Rea fair and square.
Ducati and Davies on form:
Rea’s closest challenger in both races was Chaz Davies and having finished 2016 as the strongest rider, the Welshman will have been delighted to have got his campaign underway with a brace of second place finishes. The Ducati and Kawasaki looked evenly matched and Davies was only denied victory in both races by a matter of fractions, the Japanese machine having a little more grunt along the home straight.
Having won the 2011 World Supersport title, Davies has more than served his apprentice in the WSB class and now also has a rapid and, arguably, more consistent team-mate to contend with. That alone will spur him on and we can expect more Rea v Davies battles over the next few months.
He may have been a little race rusty but Italian Marco Melandri showed he’s not made his return to WSB to make up the numbers or just for the money. The Ducati rider was fast and right at the forefront of the activity throughout the three days and was deservedly rewarded with a podium in the second race.
A coming together with Alex Lowes in the first encounter meant he was denied another potential podium and left Australia with just 16 points to his name but he’s only going to get stronger as the year progresses. Eighteen months is a long time for anyone to be out of the saddle but he showed he’s lost none of his racer’s instincts and will certainly ensure that Ducati have a double pronged attack in the year ahead.
Lowes and Yamaha make a statement:
It’s fair to say Yamaha’s comeback to WSB in 2016 was both low key and disappointing but the early signs in 2017 are that their back far stronger and far more competitive. With Dutchman Michael van der Mark still learning the intricacies of the R1, Alex Lowes, in his second year with the team, is spearheading the team’s attack and he was in fine form in Australia.
The former British Superbike Champion put in two fine, and mature, rides and can consider himself unlucky to have missed out on the podium. Whilst that will have left him disappointed, he will be more than boosted by the strength of the package he now has. They were more competitive in Phillip Island than they had been throughout the entire 2016 season and having another manufacturer pushing for honours can only be a good thing for WSB.
The biggest disappointment from round one was the lack of pace shown by Honda riders Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl. Whilst their pedigree is more than proven, the new Fireblade is clearly nowhere the level it needs to be in order to challenge for the number one spot. With a best finish of 11th (for Hayden), the Ten Kate squad have a lot of development work to do – and quickly – in order to turn the bike into a race-winning package.
Best of the rest:
Leon Camier (MV Agusta) and Xavi Fores (Barni Ducati) were clearly the best of the rest with the duo part of the six-rider battle for the lead in both races. Despite running on limited budgets compared to their rivals, the Englishman and Italian were mightily impressive.
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.