Alvaro Bautista stamped his authority on the World Superbike championship with an utterly dominant display in Phillip Island; winning all three races. Onboard the factory Aruba Ducati, the 34 year old Spaniard secured victory in Sunday’s all new ten lap sprint race before annihilating the field again in the final 22 lap race.
Onboard the all new V4 Panigale, the WSB rookie was in a class of his own and at one point had an 18 second lead over reigning champion Jonathan Rea. At the chequered flag Bautista crossed the line over 12 seconds clear having slowed down dramatically to celebrate with his team as he crossed the line.
His Phillip Island masterclass has to be put down to his love of Phillip Island (he led last year’s MotoGP race before finishing fourth) the new V4 Ducati and his clear ability to make his rear Pirelli last, where others were clearly having to ride to make them last full race distance.
Bautista said: “If you said to me before we came to Australia that we were going to have a weekend like this I wouldn’t believe you. We’ve worked really hard, especially during the two days of testing before the races and we were ready to fight.
“In the Superpole race we I had a good fight with Jonathan and in the afternoon the track conditions were different, but I was able to make a good pace. I pushed harder than yesterday because I felt the tyre would last especially after the Superpole race with Johnathan as I thought he would try and stay with me in the final race. I’m so happy with the results, today is a day I will never forget!”
In what was a humbling day for the all conquering Rea and Kawasaki partnership, the 32 year old Brit still managed to bag three second places and a new circuit lap record. And while some pundits are already predicting the end of Rea reign, it’s well worth remembering that Rea has never been particularly strong at the Australian circuit and he will no doubt already be plotting his revenge at circuits where tyre life will not be a factor.
Gracious in defeat, Rea said: “We expected a really difficult race here. I have always had to fight for results here, so to come away with three second places, a pole position and an outright fastest lap in the Superpole race; I am satisfied. Of course, there is definitely still work to do. We could not risk a bit more today than yesterday. After race one, in Parc Ferme my tyre was almost the best, but I rode a slower race. Lots of other guys were having issues, so today with the temperature going up in the final race I had the same frame of min, to just trying to get to the end of the race and not abuse the tyre.”
Sunday’s race day was also a strong one for Rea’s team-mate Leon Haslam. The 2018 BSB champion who crashed out of race one made amends with two second places in the two Sunday races. Taking the fight to his team-mate especially in race three, Haslam showed that he is a great addition to the WSB paddock and worthy of his seat in the dominant factory Kawasaki team:
He said: “It was good to get on two podiums today. In the ten-lap sprint race I was a little cautious and I got caught behind the Yamahas, so I settled. I thought I had a little bit in hand to catch Jonathan in the final race. I tried to make my own rhythm for the first four laps. After this I tried to save the tyre and which then created a group of five riders. It was a nice easy rhythm and I was feeling good with my pace. Johnny and I had some good passes; good battles. My plan was to go away with two laps to go, then he passed me into turn one and I ran a little wide. At the same time he went 0.4 of a second faster. I went with him and caught him up on the last lap but I felt like I had been caught out a little bit. To battle with Jonathan in my first race weekend of the year, with his record in this class, I am happy. ”
It was a solid, if not spectacular day for Yamaha who were clearly the best of the rest after Bautista and the two Ducati, but simply unable to be in the fight for the podium.
Chaz Davies ended the final race in sixth after clearly making a step with the new V4 Ducati. Currently unable to run anything close to the pace of his new team-mate, the Welshman has work to do, but should not be written off given his undoubted class.
The next round of the World Superbike championship takes place in Thailand on 15 – 17 March. A track where Kawasaki have been strong, but a circuit that should suit the new Ducati due to its number of long straights.