Marco Melandri takes first blood
WorldSBK 2018 – Round One – Phillip Island – Race One
Tom Sykes capitalised on his pole position to lead the field through turn one as Jonathan Rea tussled with Marco Melandri through turn one as they battled over second place.
Strong gusts of wind were causing all riders issues but Tom Sykes was going like a scalded cat up front and by the end of lap one led his Kawasaki team-mate Rea by a full second.
Eugene Laverty was running strongly in fourth just ahead of Xavi Fores and looking to get on fighting terms with third placed Melandri.
Troy Herfoss was the leading Australian in the early stages of the race in 16th place and Falzon 19th after Wayne Maxwell went down at turn nine on lap two and retired from the race.
The Kawasaki ZX-10RR machines might have had their rpm limit reduced by 1100rpm this year in the aim of parity but it certainly doesn’t seem to have slowed them down at all. Tom Sykes was at almost lap record pace and by lap five had a 1.6-second lead over Jonathan Rea, who was coming under concerted attack from Marco Melandri.
The next group of riders battling over fourth place were Xavi Fores, Chaz Davies and Eugene Laverty. The Yamaha pairing of Michael Van der Mark and Alex Lowes were a little further behind that pack and having their own tussle over seventh place.
Yonny Hernandez pushed Troy Herfoss back to 17th place on lap six, potentially pushing the Aussie man out of the points.
By lap nine Tom Sykes looked to be already suffering a distinct lack of grip from the rear Pirelli on the KRT bike. As a result both Rea and Melandri had started reeling the 32-year-old in and by half race distance they were both within half-a-second of Sykes. 11 laps down, 11 laps to go.
Troy Herfoss was then pushed back to 18th place by Ondrej Jezek. Daniel Falzon then retired to join his YRT team-mate back in the pits and pulled out of the race.
Just when it had seemed as though Tom Sykes might be spent and he would be overhauled by his team-mate he responded. Sykes pulled some ground back out of his pursuers and then started to manage the gap, if Rea gained ground, Sykes upped his pace again to push the gap back out. Doing only what he needed to maintain his advantage.
Melandri squeezed past Rea to take second place on what looked to be a very loose Ducati Panigale R, that repeatedly shook its head down the main straight and was looking like a decidedly wild ride.
Xavi Fores was seven-seconds further behind in fourth place with a few bike lengths advantage over Chaz Davies while Yamaha team-mates Michael Van der Mark and Alex Lowes were having a ding-dong battle over sixth place with no holds barred.
With five laps to run Marco Melandri was now in a position to be able to challenge Sykes for the lead and as they started lap 19 the Ducati man made his move at the end of the main straight to take the race lead.
Jonathan Rea was right out of the battle for the win now, more than two-seconds behind the leading duo but with six-seconds over fourth placed Fores, Rea had no rear grip left, the ZX-10RR sideways everywhere, all of a sudden it looked as though Fores and Davies might actually manage to overhaul the Northern Irishman before the chequered flag…
Both the Ducati man breezed past Rea on the penultimate lap, Rea’s lap-times now three-seconds off the pace, his rear tyre gello.
Troy Herfoss suffered some mechanical gremlins late in the race and eventually pulled off at turn two a couple of laps from the end.
Marco Melandri went on to take victory in the opening race of WorldSBK season 2018 after pulling away from Sykes in the closing stages to cross the line 1.18-seconds ahead of the KRT man.
“To win the first race of the season is amazing,” said Melandri. “It was a very difficult race. Tom set an amazing speed during the first part of the race, but after a year back with Ducati I am much more aware of my potential. For sure the other riders will be stronger tomorrow, and a lot will depend on the weather.”
At 35 year of age Melandri is the oldest rider in the WorldSBK field and today marks his fourth victory at Phillip Island. The first of which came in 1999 on a 125cc Honda, the second in 250 Grand Prix with Aprilia in 2002 and then of course the famous MotoGP win in 2006 that was celebrated with a huge slide through turn 12 with a hand off the bars. His fourth win at the circuit takes his WorldSBK win tally to 21.
Chaz Davies rounded out the podium while Xavi Fores was fourth as Jonathan Rea limped home to fifth.
WorldSBK 2018 – Round One – Race One Results
- Marco Melandri – Ducati
- Tom Sykes – Kawasaki +1.18
- Chaz Davies – Ducati +9.26
- Xavi Fores – Ducati +9.82
- Jonathan Rea – Kawasaki +13.89
- Alex Lowes – Yamaha +17.02
- Leon Camier – Honda +21.51
- Eugene Laverty – Aprilia +23.66
- Michael Van der Mark – Yamaha +27.43
- Leandro Mercado – Kawasaki +27.44
- Loris Baz – BMW +27.74
- Jake Gagne – Honda +28.46
- Toprak Razgatlioglu – Kawasaki +30.00
- Roman Ramos – +53.61
- Ondrez Jezek – Yamaha +62.68
- PJ Jacobsen – Honda +69.77