Importance of the season opener reviewed by WorldSBK commentator Steve English
The opening round of the 2018 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is just around the corner and after an extensive upheaval of regulations, the biggest question will be if anyone can stop Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) in his quest for a fourth title.
The Northern Irishman has called Phillip Island his second home in recent years and he has the wins to show for it. Having used Australia as the springboard for each of his WorldSBK titles, the Kawasaki rider will be keen to dominate proceedings once again and add to his tally of five victories.
With a major change in the WorldSBK regulations, it's likely that over the course of the season we will see plenty of bikes fighting it for the podium. Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit has traditionally played to the strengths of every bike on the grid, and we've seen close racing. Despite Rea having an almost unblemished record aboard the Kawasaki - five wins and one second place finish - every race in that sequence has been decided by less than one second.
Last year Yamaha surprised everyone with the speed of their R1, whereas the year before it was Ducati and Kawasaki duking it out. This year we could easily see Yamaha, Aprilia, Ducati and Kawasaki all on a level playing field at the opening round. With BMW having made progress over the winter, a major upheaval at Honda and MV Agusta having hired Jordi Torres, the grid is filled with top line riders on different bikes.
One rider hoping to join that elite will be Toprak Razgatlıoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing). The Turkish star will finally make his WorldSBK debut having suffered an injury in Australia two years ago, when he was offered a one off ride as a replacement. The winter has seen him impress, particularly at Portimao, and with Puccetti having the exact same specification of Kawasaki as the factory KRT squad, the 21 year old could spring a surprise.
Phillip Island is one of the most beautiful locations imaginable for a race track. The Southern Australian coast offers plenty of unique features, and if you travel further along the Victorian coast you find Shipwreck Coast.
The shallow water reefs have been the grave of many ships. Rea's dominance Phillip Island has seen many of his rival's title hopes run aground in the past. Will history repeat itself next weekend?