WSBK: Jonathan Rea begins title defence with Phillip Island double

Jonathan Rea celebrates victory in race one at Phillip Island.
Jonathan Rea celebrates victory in race one at Phillip Island.

World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea began the defence of his title in majestic fashion with a magnificent double at the opening round of the 2016 championship at Phillip Island in Australia.

Rea, bidding to become the second rider in WSBK history to successfully defend his crown since Carl Fogarty in 1999, claimed a maximum haul of 50 points at the legendary circuit to underline the size of the challenge facing his rivals this year.

We played the strategy game and it worked. I’m really proud to give Kawasaki two wins on the new bike.

The 29-year-old twice went head-to-head with last year’s title runner-up, Welshman Chaz Davies, and came out on top each time on the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R to increase his tally of World Superbike victories to 31.

“It is incredible. We had two really composed races this weekend. I just did my thing and was very patient in both races at the beginning,” Rea said.

“Today I knew that Chaz would make a move again, a copybook story from yesterday, but he came through when there was no space, went completely wide and, unfortunately for him, he made a mistake.

“We played the strategy game here in Phillip Island and it really paid off. I feel that we are working at around 85-90 per-cent of the potential of the machine and I am really proud to give Kawasaki these two wins on the new bike.”

It was a formidable statement from Rea, who bettered his results from the corresponding race in Australia last February, when he won the opener and finished a narrow second behind Leon Haslam in race two.

Rea built on his dream start with Kawasaki in 2015 to take the championship by the scruff of the neck and never relented, racking up 14 victories and 23 podiums as his opposition tried in vain to halt his march to the title.

Already, he has opened a 14-point advantage at the top over Honda’s Michael van der Mark and as the dust settles on the opening race weekend of 2016, the principal championship contenders will be all too aware of the need to hit back at round two in Thailand from March 11-13 to prevent Rea settling into the rhythm that saw him run away with the title last year.

On this weekend’s evidence, they have it all to do as Rea delivered a champion’s masterclass with an assured display, holding his nerve to fend off a late attack from Ducati rider Davies at MG Hairpin on the final lap to win the first ever Saturday race in World Superbike history.

Rea had blasted into the lead from third place on the front row and although team-mate Tom Sykes led in the early stages, the Yorkshireman lost ground when Rea hit the front on lap eight, dictating matters until the closing stages when Davies briefly snuck through on the brakes.

For a fleeting moment it seemed as though the Ducati protagonist could make the move stick, but Rea was quickly back on the throttle and re-passed Davies into the final sequence of turns, powering onto the straight and across the line to commence his campaign with a win by 0.063 seconds.

Van der Mark completed the podium places, four-tenths in arrears as the top three broke away in the final third of the race, with Davide Giugliano on the second of the Ducati Panigales in fourth.

Sykes eventually came home in fifth ahead of Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Yamaha R1) with MV Agusta’s Leon Camier next.

The injured Jordi Torres (Althea BMW), former MotoGP star Nicky Hayden (Honda) and reigning British Superbike champion Josh Brookes (Milwaukee BMW) were the top ten.

Rea played a waiting game in race two and after first van der Mark and then Sykes had led for much of the race, he charged through to take over on lap 18 with Davies giving chase.

The Ducati rider lined up a move on the final lap at Honda after making a successful pass on the penultimate lap, but Rea was wise to it this time and Davies ran through too hot, drifting wide before coming down.

Rea was left clear in front as he crossed the line 0.8 seconds ahead of van der Mark, with Giugliano taking third.

Series newcomer Hayden was a strong fourth in front of Guintoli, with Sykes only sixth in the end.

Aussie Brookes improved one place to ninth on the Milwaukee BMW.