The season-opening Yamaha Finance Australian Round at Phillip Island saw Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) wrap up a double victory from ninth position, in a superb Sunday race. Starting from a re-shuffled grid, Aruba.it Racing – Ducati pair Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri were also on the podium.
A stunning last lap battle between four riders for podium positions saw Rea come out on top again, with Davies a close second (+0.025s), whilst Melandri rode excellently for third (+0.249s) and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) collected more good points in fourth having led the race early on.
Xavi Fores (BARNI Racing Team) finished fifth, whilst Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) ended up at the back of a group of six riders who had been battling for the podium positions.
Behind that front group, it was Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) and Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) who crossed the line in seventh and eighth respectively for a good haul of points, whilst Lorenzo Savadori (Milwaukee Aprilia) and Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) also registered top ten results.
After his solid fourth in Race 1 on Saturday Lowes made an excellent start from the head of the reshuffled Race 2 grid to lead the way in the opening stages, with Laverty and Fores also getting in the mix early on. Rea soon came through from ninth though, making light work of the challenge of the new regulations for 2017 which sees the grid reshuffled on Sunday further to the Race 1 results.
Rea took over in the lead with 17 laps to go, as Davies also soon came through to contest the lead, with Lowes fighting to stay with the Welshman and Rea for a podium result.
Melandri emerged as a contender in the second half of the race, having steadily fought his way to the front from tenth on the grid after his WorldSBK comeback on Saturday ended in a disappointing DNF. The Italian was delighted to return to the podium at the end of Race 2 as he kept Rea and Davies in his sights.
A technical issue saw Jordi Torres (Althea BMW Racing Team) pull off track and out of contention in the Warm Up lap. Nicky Hayden (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team) crashed with 14 laps to go, with additional crashes for Riccardo Russo (Guandalini Racing) and Ayrton Badovini (Grillini Racing Team).
The WorldSBK riders will be back in action at the second round of the season, the Motul Thai Round, over the 10th-12th March weekend.
In the closest ever finish the class has seen, the first WorldSSP race of the year at the Yamaha Finance Australian Round brought immense levels of drama. With Roberto Rolfo (Team Factory Vamag) emerging victorious as he beat Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) by just +0.001s across the line, with Anthony West (West Racing) also on the podium.
In a shortened and restarted 10-lap race – after an earlier red flag – Rolfo held his nerve on the finish straight to edge Mahias out by the narrowest of margins over the Phillip Island finish line. It was later announced the Frenchman was handed a one second penalty following the last lap tussle, but he kept hold of his second position.
There was last lap drama as Jules Cluzel (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) and Federico Caricasulo (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) had a spectacular collision at MG when both were in contention for victory, with another front runner Alex Baldolini (Race Department ATK#25) also suffering and falling back to finish 13th.
Veteran rider West took a popular third place as a wild card, with Kyle Ryde (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and Niki Tuuli (Kallio Racing) also in the top five.
Pole man PJ Jacobsen (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) crossed the line sixth after a hectic afternoon for him, with the top ten completed by Aiden Wagner (GEMAR Team Lorini), Kazuki Watanabe (Team Kawasaki Go Eleven), Nacho Calero (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) and Lachlan Epis (Response RE Racing).
The original race had been red flagged after a big crash for Robin Mulhauser (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) at turn 6, with Gino Rea (Team Kawasaki Go Eleven) also crashing out when there were 13 laps of the scheduled 15 to go.
The restarted race over 10 laps gave Baldolini and Jacobsen a second chance, with Baldolini having crashed and Jacobsen having dropped back through the field with an apparent technical issue just before the red flag.
But it was not Jacobsen’s day as the American rider ran off track at turn 10 early in the restarted race and eventually finished five seconds back from the front group in sixth.
Davide Pizzoli (Race Department ATK#25) crashed out of the shortened rerun, with DNFs also recorded by Stefan Hill (Profile Racing), Luke Stapleford (Profile Racing) and Kyle Smith (GEMAR Team Lorini)
Defending champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) was absent due to a pre-season hand injury which means he will miss the opening two rounds of the 2017 championship, the Turkish rider looking to come back in style early in April at MotorLand Aragon in Round 3.
Before then the WorldSSP riders will be back in action at the second round of the season, the Motul Thai Round, over the 10th-12th March weekend.
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