WorldSBK commentator Steve Engish reviews the sensational opening rounds of the season
Four races into the 2018 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season, and we've already seen three different race winners and plenty of variety at the front of the field. With seven different riders having stood on the podium, a different man setting the fastest lap in each race, and ten race leaders it has been an epic start to the campaign.
Buriram might translate to city of happiness but it was a city of mixed fortunes for most of the field. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) retook the championship lead, but after a tough race on Sunday, it was very clear how hard he was having to ride his ZX-10RR. The Northern Irishman has sailed through the middle of the pack in recent years, but in race two we saw him with a battle on his hands. Combined with a brake issue, he was being forced to ride his Kawasaki so aggressively to try and overtake rivals.
On Friday Rea commented that he has had to adapt his riding style to be more like a Supersport machine. Focusing on corner speed rather than pure power in order to secure his lap time is an adjustment for the champion, and on Sunday we saw that it has produced a new challenge for him in 2018.
The new regulations have had their desired effect in many ways. Rea and Kawasaki were arguably the fastest bike on track in Thailand, but this tended to be when there was clear track in front of the number one machine. It will be very interesting to see how Kawasaki adapt when we return to Europe for the Aragon and Dutch Rounds.
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) has made MotorLand Aragon his kindgom in recent years. Last year's Race 1 crash ended a three race winning run at the track, but he bounced back to win Race 2. The Welshman left Buriram 30 points behind Rea last year, and 40 the year before so his confidence will be peaking after his Thai victory. Davies sits 12 points adrift of Rea in the standings, and for the first time in a long time he'll feel more in control of his title destiny.
Playing catchup in the past has left Davies with little margin for error, and Rea has been able to gain a good advantage with this. The start of the 2018 season shows that this won't be the case this year; the competitiveness of Honda, Yamaha and Aprilia in the opening rounds shows that they will be there to pick up the pieces this year following any mistakes.
Last year Yamaha needed a bit of luck to fight for race wins but 2018’s Round 2 showed that they, and Honda have the pace to race at the front - and most importantly stay at the front. At Phillip Island we had a glimpse of what was to come, and in Thailand we had a weekend of thrilling racing. Those circuits can be unique, Phillip Island always produces great races and the conditions in Thailand are very different to other rounds, and it will be in Europe that we get the proof of the effect of the new regulations.
WorldSBK looks set for a stellar campaign in 2018 when the battle resumes in Aragon from 13th – 15th April. Follow all the build up for the European charge with the WorldSBK VideoPass.