Phillip Island in Focus: Winners and Losers
WorldSBK commentator Steve English offers you an exclusive insight into the opening round of the 2016 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship.
The experienced MotoGP reporter has moved to WorldSBK for 2016 having worked with Motorcycle News in the MotoGP championship and offers his thoughts on the action from Phillip Island:
"The first round of WorldSBK is in the books and while Jonathan Rea was able to claim a double success to start the 2016 campaign, it's already clear that this could be a fantastic year of racing!
The podium finishers in both races-Rea, Michael van der Mark, Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano all showed plenty of potential for the year ahead and with 13 rounds remaining there's lots to look forward to. In the opening round there were reasons for optimism for all the teams but who were the biggest winners and losers from Australia?
Jonathan Rea - The biggest winner of the weekend was Rea. The Northern Irishman can take an unblemished score card to Thailand, the scene of an utterly dominant double triumph last year, and is clearly at one with the all new for 2016 Kawasaki ZX-10R.
The work undertaken this winter by Rea and his crew chief, Pere Riba, has cemented their standing as the leading duo in the series. Rea has had a quiet confidence throughout the winter and was unruffled by the speed of his teammate, Tom Sykes, in testing by consistently saying that he hadn't been focused on single lap pace and was working towards success on race days.
Being able to complete two full race distances during testing and practice in Australia gave Rea the crucial edge over his rivals but the manner in which he dug deep to scrap for the win in Saturday's opening race was impressive. Clinging to the outside of Turn 11 Rea rode around the outside of Chaz Davies to ride to the win.
Michael van der Mark - The rider of the weekend was van der Mark who once again showed why he is so highly rated and on the radar of several MotoGP teams. The Dutchman was in scintillating form all weekend and put himself into position to win both races.
Unfortunately for van der Mark his aging Honda Fireblade was outgunned by the newer machinery from Kawasaki and Ducati but this was another example of how he can compete at the front when his bike can use its potential.
In the first race van der Mark felt that he had the potential to win but rode within himself to save his tyre for the end. In race two he hit the front and led commandingly before being passed by Rea and Davies later taking advantage of the Welshman's crash to claim second.
Yamaha - It's hard to think of a better return to World Superbikes than what we saw from Yamaha. Sylvain Guintoli topped the times on the opening day, fought in the lead group and had strong finishes in both races.
The Frenchman was held back by being unable to take advantage of the Yamaha YZF-R1's superior corner speed and was unable to make many overtaking moves but finishing within four seconds of the winner in both races was a hugely positive opening salvo from the Crescent run squad.
On the other side of the Yamaha pitbox it wasn't so positive for Alex Lowes. The Englishman crashed out of the opening race after front grip issues and suffered a technical problem in the second race that limited his pace and saw him score only two points.
For Lowes however the weekend still had positives with the transition to the Yamaha. On the opening day of the weekend Lowes said that he needed to adjust his style to be smoother with the bike to get the most from it. After years of riding Honda and Suzuki bikes it's a difficult transition from a bike that needs to be grabbed by the scruff of its neck to the Yamaha which needs to be ridden with your fingertips and as smoothly as possible. The improvement from Friday to Saturday for Lowes came from changing his riding position and making him more comfortable and it was instantly clear that he had improved his feel with the bike. After a strong start and running in the top five Lowes fell down the order after his technical problem.
Unfortunately where there are winners there are also losers and despite strong performances, Chaz Davies and Tom Sykes will both leave Phillip Island knowing that there's work to be done to catch Jonathan Rea this year.
Chaz Davies - Despite finishing on the podium in the opening race and pushing Rea all the way in Race 2, his last lap crash on Sunday will leave a bitter taste in the Ducati rider's mouth.
Davies admitted afterwards that sometimes it's important to collect points and take your podiums but it was clear that he wanted to make a statement in this round and show Rea just how competitive he will be. The Welshman looks strong and composed on the bike and it was very positive to see that he was willing to take the risks to win the race and ruffle Rea's feathers.
Diving underneath the Kawasaki into the Honda Hairpin Davies lost the front end and fell. Despite losing points from the crash Davies laid down a marker and by jumping straight up and getting back on his bike to finish tenth he showed a never say die mentality that will stand him in good stead this year.
The six points for tenth could be crucial towards the end of the season and there's no need to panic in the red garage because Davies proved once again that he'll likely be the main competition to Rea for the title.
Tom Sykes - Two top six finishes were actually about what Sykes had expected at Phillip Island. The Australian circuit has never been a happy hunting ground for the Englishman, even in his title winning season, and it's clear that Sykes has made progress over the winter to improve his race pace.
The work undertaken by Sykes and his crew chief, Marcel Duinker, will give them plenty of reason to believe that they'll be much closer to Rea this year but despite the positives from the opening round the simple fact remains that Sykes has fallen 29 points behind Rea in the standings. There's no reason to panic in his side of the garage but it's far from an ideal starting point.
Sykes has the speed to win plenty of races this year but the biggest target for him in the next round will be upset the rhythm and momentum of Jonathan Rea.
Overall from the opening round of the year there was reasons for everyone to be positive and we've seen more than enough to believe that this year will be very competitive. Jonathan Rea dominated last year's championship but the speed of van der Mark, Davies, Guigliano and Sykes will mean that as we move to Thailand most crews will believe that they have the potential to win races."