PHILLIP ISLAND, Australia — Rookie rider Alvaro Bautista rode to a dominant victory as the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship kicked off Saturday at the Phillip Island GP Circuit.
Riding for Aruba.It Racing Ducati, Bautista took the lead on lap one and won by more than 15 seconds, becoming the first rookie since Max Biaggi in 2007 to win in his World Superbike debut.
Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) got a good start before being sandwiched into turn one by Alvaro Bautista and early race leader and polesitter Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK).
However, Bautista soon blasted into the lead at turn three and from there, built a gap, setting back-to-back fastest laps and before half race distance, the 34-year-old had a gap of over eight seconds.
The battle was for second, with Rea, Haslam and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team). Tom Sykes also had a good start to the race, with fifth place secured and chasing the leaders down hard. Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) was in sixth and made a rampant start, despite opting for a harder compound tire choice.
Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing) was a big mover and shaker after one lap, up to seventh from 14th on the grid.
The race evolved and began to take shape, with the KRT WorldSBK pairing of Rea and Haslam exchanging position frequently, whilst Tom Sykes and Alex Lowes also battled.
Razgatlioglu made massive progress through the field and was soon into fourth place with an exciting move into turn one. It wasn’t long until the first race crasher of the year occurred, with Leon Camier at turn two (Moriwaki Althea HONDA Team).
With Haslam managing to get ahead of Jonathan Rea and pull clear, disaster struck for the former WorldSBK runner-up, as he crashed out of second at turn four. ‘Haslam eventually finishing 15th. This left Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes at the front of the battle for second position, while Toprak Razgatlioglu and Tom Sykes battled hard.
Marco Melandri started to make big in-roads to Dutchman, Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team). It wasn’t long before the Italian made his move into sixth place and then chased down the riders ahead of him. Soon, he got ahead of Tom Sykes and then Razgatlioglu at turn two with six laps left, releasing him into clear air to hunt Alex Lowes and the final spot on the podium.
Bautista romped home with 14.9 seconds to spare, a remarkable achievement. Rea took second position and conceded the first race of the season for a second consecutive year. The battle for third saw a remarkable effort from Melandri flourish, able to get ahead of Lowes to take the final position on the podium.
Michael van der Mark took fifth place to make it three Yamaha riders inside the top five, whilst Razgatlioglu completed the top six ahead of Sykes.