Champion Rea gets off to a dream start in Superbike title defence

East Antrim rider Jonathan Rea dominated at Phillip Island. INLT 09-921-CON

East Antrim rider Jonathan Rea dominated at Phillip Island. INLT 09-921-CON

It was a perfect start to the new world Superbike season for East Antrim’s Jonathan Rea and the all-new Ninja ZX-10R Kawasaki, as the reigning world champion did the double at Phillip Island, Australia.

With the new format of one race on Saturday and one on Sunday coming into play in 2016, it was a ride into the unknown for all the competitors but it didn’t seem to phase Rea. He dominated both races and now commands a 14-point lead in the

Jonathan Rea shows them all the way home in Australia. INLT 09-923-CON

Jonathan Rea shows them all the way home in Australia. INLT 09-923-CON

Championship, going into round two of the new season in Buriram, Thailand (March 11-13).

Rea and team-mate Tom Sykes took turns to lead the opening 22-lap Saturday race, but in the end it was 2015 champion Rea who emerged with the race victory as Sykes dropped to fifth with Ducati’s Chaz Davies second and Honda’s Michael van der Mark completing the rostrum.

Rea started third on the grid but took an immediate lead from the lights but he only held it for two laps before team-mate Tom Sykes swept into the number one slot.

He made his move back into the lead on lap eight. It certainly upset Sykes as both the Ducatis of Davies and David Guigliano and the Hondas of van der Mark and Nicky Hayden got past the Yorkshire rider soon after.

With up to nine riders forming one leading group and podium challengers all around, the pressure was intense throughout with Rea finally winning by resisting the late charge of Davies.

On the final lap Rea was passed for a short time after Davies had went inside at the MG hairpin. The Ballyclare rider, however, chose the best exit line to ensure Davies could not stay in front at the exit of the corner and won by 0.063 seconds. This was his 30th world superbike career win.

In Sunday’s race it again was Rea and Sykes at the front. Sykes led for the opening 10 laps of the 22-lap race but two incidents pushed him back to sixth place.

Rea led on lap 11 for the first time and confirmed his pace in the final laps, winning the race by an eventual 0.831 seconds.

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

Championship positions after Australia: 1st, J.Rea 50; 2nd, M. van der Mark 36; 3rd, D. Giugiano 29; 4th, C. Davies 26; 5th, S. Guiltoli 21; 6th, T. Sykes 21.