After the announcement on Saturday that Race 2 of Australian WorldSBK would be a flag to flag with a maximum of 12 laps allowed on one set of tyres, the scene was set for a showdown with a difference and Sunday didn’t disappoint.
After a huge fight at the front off the line, the battle incredibly resumed full force after the stop – and by the end, a three-rider battle to decide the podium order saw Marco Melandri complete the double by just hundredths of a second.
Off the line it was reigning Champion Jonathan Rea who took the holeshot, but the field remained tightly packed together in a close fight throughout the top ten. Eugene Laverty was then able to get past and get away, pushing hard at the front in an impressive show of pace, but it wasn’t to be as the Irishman then crashed out of contention and left the big group to fight it out at the front.
After Laverty’s fall, Rea, Melandri, Chaz Davies, Leon Camier, Tom Sykes, Xavi Fores and Pata Yamaha WorldSBK duo Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes were locked in all-out war – and the laps were ticking down towards the mandatory time to make their pitstop.
The first three riders to pit out the lead group were Fores, Rea and van der Mark, with the trio piling into pitlane as the battle remained raging at the front. Davies, Melandri, Lowes and Camier kept it pinned as the three former leaders in pitlane waited the mandatory pit intervention time out, before next time around Davies led the four of the second wave in. Heading out pitlane as the other three blasted down the main straight, the group incredibly reformed almost exactly as it had been but with Davies ahead – and there were just nine uninterrupted laps left.
If the fight wasn’t enough drama already, there was more soon on the way as Race 1 podium finisher and perennial title contender Davies suddenly slid out the lead – having just gained a sliver of daylight between himself and the chasing pack. Rider ok but unable to rejoin, that left Independent Team rider Xavi Fores leading the way, with Rea, Sykes, Melandri, van der Mark, Lowes and Camier concertinaing and tousling for position in the tight battle behind.
As a gap began to appear and Rea appeared to have been able to pull away, the big mover was Melandri and the Italian was far from done. After his stunning Race 1 win managed to perfection, Race 2 was a different animal and the Italian sliced his way through towards the front, passing Sykes into Turn 1 and the Englishman then dropping back slightly as he got stood up. As the last lap dawned, it was Rea leading Melandri and Fores, and the stage was set.
Not quite close enough to make it work into Turn 1, Melandri kept his head down and edged closer to the Kawasaki ahead of him – not quite able to make a move at the hairpin or Lukey Heights, but tagged right onto the back of Rea. Tucking in behind the Kawasaki and catapulting himself out the final corner, the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati rider slipstreamed it to perfection before pulling out alongside Rea, incredibly just able to take it over the line with a photo finish so close, the Ducati box put the pause on their celebrations until the result was confirmed.
Fores completed the podium, with Sykes putting together another solid result at the Island – following his best ever result at the track the day before – to come home fourth. Fifth was another good haul of points for Alex Lowes, who crossed the line ahead of Camier and van der Mark.
Jordi Torres took eighth and got some points on the board after retiring from Race 1, ahead of Loris Baz on his returning weekend and a first top ten result for rookie Toprak Razgatlioglu.
Roman Ramos kept his reputation for consistency going in P11, just ahead of fellow Independent Team rider Leandro Mercado. American Jake Gagne took thirteenth after bouncing back from a crash earlier in the race, with PJ Jacobsen and Laverty, able to rejoin but two laps down, completing the fastest fifteen.
So after opening the season with a double, that makes Melandri the first key Championship leader of the year, but Rea’s 20 points for second in Race 2 were a good bounce back following late issues in Race 1 and a fifth at the flag. Sykes is second in the title fight as it stands, however – and next up it’s all change at Chang International Circuit in Buriram.
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