Title favourites Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies took their first wins of the 2018 world superbike series in Buriram, Thailand, this weekend, leaving the championship standings wide open after another exciting weekend of racing.
After a subdued opening round in Australia by his own immaculate standards, triple champion Rea bounced back to take pole position and the race win on Saturday.
Sunday was to be a tougher affair for the Northern Irish rider though, as he struggled to get to terms with the race leaders and finished a distant fourth. The world champ had been blighted with front end problems on his Kawasaki, similar to those that had caused team-mate Tom Sykes to slip back through the field and eventually retire the previous day. Despite finishing off the podium, fourth was good enough to see Rea regain the championship lead, although he was in a reflective mood after the race.
“I think my problem today must have been a similar problem to Tom yesterday,” he said ruefully. “It is what it is. After a very difficult Phillip Island we can go away from here with a first and a fourth, and leading the championship, so it was not a disaster. I am frustrated but with a smile on my face because at least the bike was good and this is the worst track for brakes. Everyone is pushing really hard so when the going gets tough the tough get going. I felt like today I could have fought for the win again, but it is what it is.”
Kawasaki’s misfortune allowed Davies and the Ducati squad to take advantage. The Welshman finished third on Saturday, despite qualifying down in ninth, and Sunday’s win came at a circuit that has historically been difficult for the booming Italian V-twins. Davies moves up to fourth in the championship standings, largely as a result of him crashing out of the lead in Australia exactly one month earlier, but such is the nature of this year’s championship, he lies just 12 points behind Rea.
“It was a fantastic race, something special. To come away with a win here makes me so happy. At Buriram we’ve always struggled in the past, it’s been a long process to get into a race winning position. I want to thank the whole team because they’ve given me such a great bike today. The Panigale R was working really well, we found a little bit more consistency and I could be more adaptable with the bike. It was quite hectic out there but, if you can get through it OK, it’s so much fun. Our package is competitive and in Europe it will be like starting from zero. I’m looking forward to Aragon.”
Sandwiched between the two Brits are two more Ducatis. Italian Marco Melandri stunned the paddock with a double win in Phillip Island, but lacklustre seventh and eighth place finishes have seen him relinquish his points lead, while Spanish privateer Xavi Fores was once again impressive, carding second on Saturday and fifth on Sunday to move up to third in the championship.
Yamaha’s resurgence in the championship saw both Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark land on the podium on Sunday. They lie fifth and sixth in the championship – ahead of Sykes and the once again impressive Leon Camier, riding the ever improving Red Bull Honda Fireblade. All eight of the championship front runners have demonstrated pace to suggest that they could win races in 2018, giving hope that this year’s series could be one of the closest yet.
Sadly though, there was little to cheer for Irish rider Eugene Laverty, who was involved in a frightening race two collision with Jordi Torres and faces some time out of the saddle after breaking his pelvis.
The series returns in three weeks time at the Spanish Aragon circuit.