WorldSBK Champion Jonathan Rea got back to winning ways in Buriram on Saturday, collecting his first victory of 2018 and his sixth from seven starts at the Chang International Circuit. Xavi Fores and Chaz Davies completed the podium as Honda’s Leon Camier ran as high as second before taking fourth at the flag.
In a Kawasaki 1-2 on the grid, Rea denied team-mate Tom Sykes a new pole position record by just three thousandths of a second. Both men took turns at the front in this afternoon’s race, with Sykes twice passing his team-mate into the final corner only to be overhauled shortly afterwards on both occasions.
Rea, who due to this year’s new regulations is unable to rely as much on previous years’ data, bounced back from 11th place in opening practice. His charge looked controlled but was aided further by an entertaining fight for second between Barni’s Fores and Honda’s Camier, the Spaniard trying his upmost to overtake and eventually doing so when they ride wide in harmony at the Turn 3 hairpin. A mistake from Chaz Davies at Turn 12 saw the Aruba Ducati man fall back before catching great friend Camier and taking third spot from the Honda in the closing stages.
Alex Lowes and Yamaha continue to make progress, both with a new electronics package and a larger Japanese engineer presence in the garage. The Englishman sealed fifth after passing Sykes, whose early-race overtaking for the lead was overshadowed by a plummet to sixth position. Seventh went to Michael van der Mark while Australia’s double winner Marco Melandri struggled to eighth, maintaining the championship lead over Rea by just two points. The Italian, who bounced back from a Superpole crash and starting position of seventh, has work to do overnight.
The top ten was completed by Eugene Laverty and Jordi Torres, the latter having placed the MV Agusta fourth on the grid in a brilliant performance. The recovering Loris Baz and Lorenzo Savadori were 11th and 12th, with the points positions completed by Leandro Mercado, Roman Ramos and Toprak Razgatlioglu. Guandalini’s Ondrej Jezek was the only retirement, pitting with technical problems.
New regulations, such as modified rev limits and smaller teams having access to more advanced components, seem to be having an effect on the overall field spread. In Race 1 last year, the top ten was covered by 35 seconds; today the same number of riders were separated by just 11 seconds – a gap decrease of over 30%.
Sunday’s World Superbike Race 2 will be preceded by the second World Supersport race of 2018. Live coverage begins on Eurosport 2 at 8am UK time (clocks go forward for daylight saving in the early hours of Sunday morning).