Eugene Laverty proved himself an able successor to reigning World Superbike champion Max Biaggi at Aprilia as the Northern Ireland rider kicked off his title challenge in convincing fashion in Australia.
Laverty oozed style and class on the factory RSV4 at Phillip Island as he followed up a solid runner-up finish in race one behind teammate Sylvain Guintoli with a calculated success in race two as the 26-year-old assumed the joint lead of the world championship with Guintoli.
He was out in front for much of the first race before the flying Guintoli took over on the 15th of 22 laps and edged away to mark his Aprilia debut in the best way possible.
Italy’s Michel Fabrizio demoted Laverty to third place on the Red Devils Roma Aprilia, but with two corners remaining on the final lap the Toomebridge rider had the satisfaction of re-taking second position, crossing the line a mere 0.007s ahead of Fabrizio.
Chaz Davies (BMW) and Kawasaki duo Tom Sykes and Loris Baz were the first six, with Pata Honda pair Leon Haslam and Ulsterman Jonathan Rea seventh and eighth respectively.
Pole-sitter Carlos Checa was ruled out of race two after the Spaniard out-braked himself into the hairpin on lap 13, slamming into the hapless Marco Melandri, who had moved into third place on the previous lap.
Alstare Ducati’s Checa was briefly knocked unconscious in the incident and would not take his position on the grid for race two, although Melandri escaped unhurt.
With tyre preservation at the forefront of every rider’s thoughts at the newly-resurfaced Australian circuit, Laverty reasoned after race one that he may have been ‘too conservative’ with his Pirelli rubber, conceding ground to Guintoli as the race reached its closing stages.
“All the work from the past few days has paid off,” he said. “In race one I may have been a bit too conservative with the tyres, still taking a nice second place, but in race two I pushed a bit more decisively.
“I’ve never started a season this well and now we’ll be thinking about Aragon and how to stay on this path.”
As Guintoli led the way in his quest for a double in race two, Laverty kept watch from a close second place with Melandri making up ground to bridge the gap to the two works Aprilias.
Melandri seemingly did not have the pace to get close enough to Guintoli and with three laps remaining, Laverty made his move.
He shattered the lap record with a time of 1m 31.168s and rapidly reeled in Guintoli, breezing into the lead at the first right-hander at the beginning of the penultimate lap.
Laverty effortlessly dispatched his teammate and took the chequered flag to earn his fourth career World Superbike victory by just under half a second.
Melandri held off a late charge from Fabrizio to take the final podium place, while Sykes and Davide Giugliano on the Althea Aprilia completed the top six as Rea again finished eighth.
Laverty and Guintoli both share the championship lead on 45 points apiece from Fabrizio, Sykes, Melandri and Rea.