Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea celebrated his 39th and 40th career WSBK wins after winning both races from the season opener at Phillip Island.
Rea claimed pole, and in a dramatic race, the defending champion was part of the leading pack of seven riders which saw the lead change hands almost every lap until tyre wear and performance came into play in the closing stages.
The final lap saw Rea in a scintillating battle with Ducati’s Chaz Davies, with the Ulsterman taking the flag by the narrowest of margins.
The second Phillip Island race saw a small piece of history being made on two main fronts. Firstly, race one front row winner Rea, second placed man Davies and third placed Tom Sykes had to start Race Two from the third row under the new championship regulations – Sykes took over seventh grid place, Davies eighth and Rea ninth, in another new twist to the 2017 season.
The opening race saw the Yamaha of Lowes and the Aprilia of Eugene Laverty involved in a hard fight for first, before the field closed and Rea pounced.
Rea was able to get into the lead as early as lap six, but was unable to pull away, with Davies, Sykes, Fores and Melandri all in the mix.
The final lap was again between Rea and Davies, with the reigning champion winning by a margin of just 0.025 seconds.
This latest race win gave Rea his magical 40th career victory; a level only reached and then later passed by three other riders in WorldSBK history – Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss and Noriyuki Haga.
Rea, the 2015 and 2016 champion, also scored the Superpole win on Saturday to open his account with a perfect weekend.
Rea said: “Phillip Island was really rewarding and to win two last lap battles here means a lot because it is a such a hard track to lead from the front on. While that 40th career victory means a lot, it is more important to put a good score on the board for round one.
When I went through to clean air in the lead with three or four to go I was worried that the other riders may be learning too much about the bike. I had to be sure just to change the lines up a little bit but on the last lap, from Siberia corner onwards, I just put my head down and completed a very good back section. I covered my line into the MG hairpin and got myself tucked in as well as I could on the front straight. There was not only one area where we found some pace in the winter tests; we generally just polished the bike. Nothing magic happened but I feel good about this bike. The way things have changed a little bit have suited me. I can ride less on the limit and we have more tyre left to fight with at the end of races, compared to last year.”