Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Rea marked his Kawasaki debut at Phillip Island in Australia in sensational style on Sunday with a dramatic victory and runner-up finish.
The 28-year-old started from pole position in race one and came out on top of a thrilling last lap tussle with Red Devils Aprilia’s Leon Haslam to finish on the podium for the first time ever in the class at the legendary Australian track.
Rea was on course for a double in race two and did the hard part after passing Haslam on the final lap with a stunning move on the run towards Lukey Heights, but agonisingly lost out on the blast towards the finishing line, with Haslam drafting past on the RSV4 to win by one thousandth of a second.
Welshman Chaz Davies (Ducati WSBK Team) twice finished third to complete an all-British clean sweep of the podium places in both 22-lap races.
Rea, who is tied on points at the top of the championship table with former Pata Honda team-mate Haslam, said he couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season with his new team.
“I could not have had a better weekend. The team were not so optimistic about winning races or being on the podium here with the pace of some other bikes but together with Pere, Paolo, Javier, all the guys from Showa, all my mechanics, we worked really hard and never lost sight of our goal, which was to be strong for 22-laps each time,” said Rea, who has now won 16 WSBK races since his debut in 2009.
“Leon just had more pace today in each race, so race one fell in my hands a little, but I am so happy to be getting out of here with 45 points and starting the season strongly. I did not expect these results at all.
“We were not the most optimistic so to be just pipped by a small margin in race two, and by my old team-mate Leon; I am happy for him,” added Rea.
“We did the maximum we could and came away with the maximum points we could have had. I am happy and excited to move on from here with 45 points.”
Behind Rea, Haslam and Davies in race one, exciting rookie Jordi Torres was fourth on the second of the factory Aprilia machines ahead of fellow series newcomer and World Supersport champion Michael van der Mark (Pata Honda), while Yorkshireman Tom Sykes completed the top six (Kawasaki).
Sykes improved to fourth place in race two, which went to Haslam from Rea with Davies again third.
Reigning champion Sylvain Guintoli was fifth on the Pata Honda, gaining a few places after Torres and van der Mark both crashed out, escaping unhurt.
Another impressive newcomer to the class, former 125cc Grand Prix world champion Nico Terol, was sixth on the Althea Ducati.
Aussie legend Troy Bayliss, who returned to action at Phillip Island for the first time since retiring in 2008, finished 13th in race one and 16th in the second race, when he was forced into the pits for a change of tyres after being troubled by excessive wear.
The 45-year-old was standing in for the injured Davide Giugliano in the Aruba Ducati team.
The next round of the championship takes place in Thailand on March 22.