It was a busy opening day of Phillip Island’s return to WorldSBK, with massive stories and momentous surprises in the leading positions
After more than two years away, the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship was back on track at a true classic battleground. The Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit closes off the season as the Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round returns and under blissfully sunny skies, FP2 rounded out the opening day of action. Topping the timesheets come the conclusion of the day, Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) enjoyed an emphatic first day back at his “second home round” of the year, with a tenth of a second advantage in his pocket.
REA ON FIRE: is the win drought FINALLY going to end?
It was a strong opening day for Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), who topped FP1 before setting a solid race pace on Friday afternoon. The six-time World Champion, likewise a six-time race winner at Phillip Island, has the aim to try and put his win drought to an end this weekend at a circuit he’s always performed well in the past. Leaving it until the last couple of minutes to push for a top time, Rea finished top on the overall times, with a tenth of a second advantage. Teammate Alex Lowes was also on the pace at a track he won at in 2020, finishing fourth in FP1 before improving his time in FP2 to end the day in…
BAUTISTA STRONG IN SECOND: 2019 V2 incoming on Saturday, Toprak in trouble?
Newly-crowned World Champion Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) was right on the money throughout the course of the opening day and having been just 0.022s off Rea in FP1 despite a fall at Turn 4, he consolidated his position in the afternoon. The Spaniard dominated on his Ducati debut in 2019 for a magical hat-trick, whilst he was top six finisher for Honda in 2020. Whilst Rea was faster than Bautista throughout the opening three sectors of the lap, Bautista’s top speed down the straight was enough to give him the advantage come the end of the lap, albeit not enough after Rea put together a perfect lap. Setting consistent fast laps, Bautista was comfortably ahead of the other Ducatis, with teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi only tenth and suffering a run-off at Turn 4.
It wasn’t the strongest opening day for reigning World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK), with the Turkish rider finishing fourth on the combined times and failing to improve his best time from FP1. Just under half a second behind Rea, Razgatlioglu set the fewest number of laps out of anyone else in the top ten and was the only rider in the field to not improve his lap time from the morning session. Teammate Andrea Locatelli was right behind him in fifth place and just 0.051s adrift, consolidating his fifth place that he achieved in FP1.
SENSATIONAL DEBUT: Nagashima makes waves as top Honda, Oettl top Independent
Without doubt the surprise and revelation of the day was Japanese super-sub Tetsuta Nagashima (Team HRC), as he rounded out the top six in an excelled debut showing for the factory Honda outfit. Just shy of the top time by three quarters of a second, Nagashima was top Honda in both sessions across Friday, as regular rider Xavi Vierge concluded the day in 14th place. Nagashima is deputising for the injured Iker Lecuona, after the #7 was ruled unfit during the Pirelli Indonesian Round a week ago, due to a crash in FP2.
The Independent charge was strong inside the top ten but it wasn’t the usual suspects, as Philipp Oettl (Team Goeleven) came to the fore in FP2, improving his time by over six tenths of a second compared to FP1. Behind him was Garrett Gerloff (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), with the American in his final weekend with the team and manufacturer before a move to BMW awaits. The #31 was eighth on the combined times, 0.931s behind Rea at the top but with nearly two tenths of a second advantage over his nearest rival.
BMW STRUGGLE ON DAY 1: Redding takes top honours in P9, Bassani P11 for Ducati
That nearest rival was Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), who took top BMW honours after setting his fast lap behind Jonathan Rea, as has been so often the case in 2022, albeit mainly in Tissot Superpole. BMW struggled on the opening day as Redding was the manufacturer’s only top ten representation. Michael van der Mark (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) was only 12th come the end of the day, whilst Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) could only manage 16th and suffered a Turn 4 fall in FP1, although he was all OK. On his final Friday as a WorldSBK rider, Eugene Laverty (Bonovo Action BMW) took 18th place at the circuit in which his last career win came at.
In terms of the other riders, it was Best Independent Rider for 2022 Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) who took 11th; Bassani did a track walk on Thursday with none other than triple WorldSBK Champion Troy Bayliss, with the 22-year-old Italian racing at Phillip Island for the first time this weekend. In what could be his final weekend as a WorldSBK rider, with no seat confirmed for 2023, Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) was 13th, whilst Xavi Fores (BARNI Spark Racing Team) was 15th. Hafizh Syahrin (MIE Racing Honda Team) took 17th, ahead of Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) in 19th, Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) in 20th, Leandro Mercado (MIE Racing Honda Team) in 21st and Kyle Smith (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) in 22nd.
Top six after day one at Phillip Island:
1. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) 1’31.127s
2. Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) +0.105s
3. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) +0.289s
4. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) +0.477s
5. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) +0.594s
6. Tetsuta Nagashima (Team HRC) +0.742s
- From WorldSBK.com