The Ducati WSBK factory team enjoyed a memorable first round performance at Phillip Island as Marco Melandri took two extraordinary race victories.
Race One saw Melandri fight with the leading group of Rea and Sykes before the Italian closed the gap from Sykes at the top, eventually taking the lead with five laps to go and defending his position until the checkered flag.
His team-mate Chaz Davies also enjoyed a strong race, coming back from sixth to third position in the second half of the race to take a deserved podium.
Race Two was shaped by a mandatory tyre change, a decision taken by Race Direction for safety reasons, which prompted the riders to pit-in from lap 10 to 12.
At the end of lap 11, Melandri enjoyed a near perfect pit-stop and rejoined the race in second position, behind team-name Davies. While trying to build a gap at the front, however, the Welshman crashed out, leaving Melandri to fight it out with Rea for the win. The duel went down to the wire and was decided by just 0.021 seconds, with Melandri taking the photo finish.
The win was Melandri’s 22nd win in WSBK, making him the most successful Italian in the production-based series.
Melandri said: “Race One was fantastic. Sykes got off to a strong start and it wasn’t easy to follow him and Rea early on. As the race went on, I managed to cut the gap. Once in the lead, it wasn’t easy anyway because the wind gusts were even stronger. The last lap seemed to last forever, but we hung on and brought home the victory.
“Race Two was a crazy race. The tire change made it impossible to come up with a strategy, as many riders could be fast for 10 laps. It was a big fight, with many aggressive moves. We still tried to look after the tyres after the pit-stop, and in the last five laps we found our rhythm. Towards the end, it was difficult to pass Rea under braking so I decided to focus on the final sprint and catch the slipstream out of the last corner, in which we were particularly fast, and the plan worked.”