Eugene Laverty’s elation at clinching a dream victory on his World Superbike debut for the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team was tempered by a dramatic engine blow-up in race two at Phillip Island.
Nonetheless, Northern Ireland star Laverty has shown that he will be a serious contender for the title this year following his switch to Paul Denning’s team from Aprilia.
The Toomebridge man went close to his maiden world crown in 2013, winning nine races on his way to the runner-up spot in the championship behind Tom Sykes.
Ultimately shown the door at Aprilia to make way for former MotoGP hot-shot Marco Melandri, how Laverty must have enjoyed standing on the top step in Australia flanked by the Italian factory’s chosen pair of Melandri and Sylvain Guintoli after a commanding victory in the opener.
It was Suzuki’s first WSBK triumph since Leon Haslam took the spoils in race two at Kyalami in 2010.
If Laverty was unsure if he could mount a genuine title challenge in his first year on the GSX-R prior to the opening race of the season, the 27-year-old now knows he has a realistic opportunity to go one better than he managed last season.
He made a less than perfect start in the first race from fourth place on the second row, but gradually clawed his way into the race and hunted down the leading trio of Guintoli, Melandri and Davide Giugliano on the factory Ducati.
It was clear Laverty had plenty left in the tank and after a series of clinical passes, he took over for the first time on lap 17 and quickly pulled clear, easing away on the final five laps to win by three seconds from Melandri, who gained the upper hand over team-mate Guintoli.
Laverty - who also earned a win at Phillip Island 12 months ago on the Aprilia - celebrated Crescent Suzuki’s first World Superbike victory and his 12th career win in the championship - one ahead of compatriot Jonathan Rea, who finished sixth and fifth in Australia on the Pata Honda.
“It’s an incredible day for us and I really wanted to get back to winning ways sooner rather than later,” said a delighted Laverty, who picked up where he left off after winning both races at Jerez in the final round of the 2013 championship.
“To win the first race was very unexpected and first and foremost I want to thank me team manager, Paul Denning, for giving me this opportunity, my crew chief, Phil Marron and all my team.
“They’ve worked incredibly hard over these past few months to make this bike a race-winning package once again. It’s a win that means more to me than any so far in my WSBK career,” he added.
“The second race was a disappointment for everyone. We didn’t deserve that, that’s for sure but that’s racing.”
Giugliano, Loris Baz (Kawasaki) and Rea were the top six.
In race two, Laverty had again forced his way into contention and was holding second place behind Guintoli when his engine blew on lap 15, forcing him out.
The race was stopped as a result and with two-thirds distance completed, Guintoli took the win from Kawasaki’s Baz and Tom Sykes - seventh in race one - with Giugliano again fourth on the Ducati ahead of Ulsterman Rea.
Series rookie Alex Lowes crashed out of race one and ran wide in the second, eventually finishing 13th.
Round two of the World Superbike Championship takes place at Aragon in Spain on April 13.
Race 1: 1 E Laverty (Aprilia); 2 M Melandri (Aprilia); 3 S Guintoli (Aprilia); 4 D Giugliano (Ducati); 5 L Baz (Kawasaki); 6 J Rea (Honda).
Race 2: 1 S Guintoli (Aprilia); 2 L Baz (Kawasaki); 3 T Sykes (Kawasaki); 4 D Giugliano (Ducati); 5 J Rea (Honda); 6 L Haslam (Honda).
Championship points after round one: 1 Guintoli 41pts; 2 Baz 31; 3 M Melandri 28; 4 Giugliano 26; 5 Laverty 25; 6 Sykes 25; 7 Rea 21.