Newcomer Alvaro Bautista gave Ducati’s new Panigale V4R racer a perfect debut with three wins out of three as the new look Superbike World Championship got underway at Phillip Island, Australia, this weekend.
The former MotoGP racer, 125cc world champion in 2006, stormed to massive runaway victories in the two 22-lap feature races, as well as the new-for-2019, Superpole sprint race on Sunday morning.
“It has been a perfect weekend and my superbike debut couldn’t have been better,” the Spaniard said after Sunday’s main race. “We made a clean sweep of everything by winning race one, the Superpole race and race two. If people had said to me before that I would have won three races, I wouldn’t have believed them, but we worked hard during the tests to prepare a fantastic bike. In this morning’s Superpole race I had a lot of fun fighting with Jonathan Rea, I knew that he was very strong and that he was always pushing. The pace was incredible and I had to concentrate so hard, but in the end I got the better of him. In race two the track conditions were more difficult than in the morning, and it was important to save the tyres because of the higher track temperature, so I pushed hard in the early laps to try and manage the situation at the end. I’m so happy with the results, today is a day I will never forget! A big thanks to the Aruba team, to Ducati and to my crew for making this all possible! Now we have to continue to work hard, we’re only at the beginning and I think it’s going to be a very top-level championship.”
Second in all three races was four-time champion Rea, who rode sensibly to manage his tyres on the factory Kawasaki ZX-10RR. Without the need to preserve his tyres, the Northern Irish rider did push Bautista hard in the 10-lap Superpole race and with a lap record and pole position in Australia, no-one will be writing off the 32-year-old’s chances of lifting an unprecedented fifth back-to-back title in 2019. “I am happy about the race weekend,” he said. “Phillip Island is not one of the stronger tracks for me and my bike but to come away with a lap record, a pole position and three second places, I couldn’t have asked for more. My congratulation goes to Alvaro. It takes a lot of work to come here as a rookie and win three races in a row, so a big congrats to him”.
Third in Sunday’s two races was Rea’s Kawasaki team-mate and fellow Carole Nash insurance ambassador Leon Haslam. The 2018 British superbike champion showed that he will also be a force to be reckoned with on his return to the world stage in 2019, pushing his team-mate hard for a pair of podium finishes after a mistake saw him slip off in Saturday’s race.
“With this podium, it was able to make up after the silly crash I had yesterday,” added the 35-year-old Derbyshire rider. “It was a good race two, with a lot of passing and I had so much fun. With two laps left, I thought it was made and that I was going to finish in second, but Jonathan is not a four-time world champion for no reason and he beat me. Third on the podium is a good result and it’s perfect for the team as we finished second and third. Now we can move on to Thailand and try to progress”.
Behind the top three, there were plenty of talking points for one of the most talked about world superbike series in years. Yamaha look to have made an improvement over the winter, with all four YZF-R1 riders running a similar pace to each other and looking like a threat to the previously dominant Kawasakis. Veteran Marco Melandri picked up third in Saturday’s race, with Alex Lowes taking two fourths and a fifth to join Melandri in joint third place in the championship.
There was disappointment for Welshman Chaz Davies though. Last year’s runner-up has struggled with injury over the winter and has yet to gel with the new V4 Ducati. Seventh in race two was his best result.
Of the other Brits, Tom Sykes looked strong on Saturday, giving BMW a seventh place on the new S1000RR’s debut, but carded 11th and 13th in Sunday’s races. Leon Camier found that Honda’s change of team structure has done little to turn their fortunes around though, although 10th in Sunday’s main race will be a positive for the new Moriwaki run team ahead of the next round of the championship, which takes place at Thailand’s Buriram circuit in three weeks’ time.
The supporting world supersport race saw Yamaha take a clean sweep of the podium, with YZF-R6 riders taking the top five places in a 16-lap race complicated by a mandatory pitstop, mandated due to fears over tyre life at the notoriously demanding Phillip Island circuit. Swiss rider Randy Krummenacher won the race, with Jules Cluzel second, despite a time penalty for completing his pitstop too quickly. Third place went to Federico Caricasulo, who saw his bid for victory dashed when he was held up in the pits due to his paddock stand failing to detach from the bike.