Phillip Island result gives Rea plenty of food for thought
Having attended Phillip Island last year for the first round of the World Superbike, I was having withdrawal symptoms when this year's event came around, and while I was disappointed not to be there, I just had to live with it and - like all race fans - turn to the TV.
Despite so much criticism on various social media platform during the winter about how boring this class has become, and basically slagging off three-time World champion Jonathan Rea that he had it too easy, well, the 2018 class had different ideas, and the season opener provided a Ducati Double, much to the delight of the Italian factory.
In race one it was Tom Sykes who launched off the line to go a second clear of the field at the start, while his Kawasaki teammate Jonathan Rea brushed off his sixth-place qualifying result to move into second at the first corner. Sykes extended his advantage to almost two seconds, while Melandri slotted into third and began closing them down.
Rea began to mount the pressure on Sykes by middistance, with the reigning World champion closing his teammate's advantage down to under a second. But for some reason, Rea began to struggle with what looked like a tyre problem and this allowed Melandri to ease ahead with eight laps to go and clear away from him.
The Italian hounded Sykes over the next few laps, before blasting past and quickly building a gap, and he was never challenged to the finish, to score his second Ducati win. Sykes took second, with Chaz Davies passing Rea on the penultimate lap to take third. Rea clung onto fifth at the flag.
Eugene Laverty seemed to get his Aprillia sorted after all the problems in 2017, and he started on the front row, but he was unable to keep up the momentum, finishing eighth.
The iconic Australian track is well known as a very abrasive one, but it is normally the 600 class that suffers. This year it was the Pirellis of the Superbikes that gave the problems, and after race one the organisers decided to feature a mandatory pit stop, which had to be served at the end of Lap 10, 11 or 12.
Rea got a great start to lead off the line from second on the grid, but Laverty passed both him and pole-sitter Xavi Fores to take the early lead. Laverty quickly built a gap, but his lead was short-lived and he crashed on lap 3, but was able to remount, minus the bottom half of his fairing. Fores, Rea and Davies started to fight for the lead until the start of the pit window.
Fores and Rea changed tyres at the first possible moment, with Davies waiting for an extra lap and rejoining in first place following his stop. Unfortunately Davies fell shortly afterwards, giving Fores the lead, and he was closely followed by the Kawasaki duo of Rea and Sykes as well as Melandri. He managed to hold onto the lead for eight laps, but he was overtaken by Rea and Melandri with two to go.
Melandri managed to slipstream past Rea on the main straight at the start of the final lap, only for Rea to come back at turn 1. Rea held onto first place for the remaining corners and looked set to win, only to be beaten by Melandri on the run to the line for a photo finish, where he lost by the slimmest of margins, just 0.021sec. Fores completed the podium, his second in World Superbike. Laverty managed to finish in 15th place with one championship point.
It was a very interesting start to the new championship, and it was good for the class to see a different team taking the double. I am sure that Rea will be back, as he is one determined rider.
It was brilliant to see Laverty back at the top end, and while he was bitterly disappointed at crashing while in the lead, I am sure that the 'Toome Raider' will show that he really has the class to be at the top. It will also be great to see two of our riders clashing at the top level of World Superbike.