FEATURE: our return to Phillip Island means more thrilling WorldSBK history

Thursday, 17 November 2022 04:13 GMT

Emotional final wins to historic maiden victories, home heroes breaking through and unpredictability reigning over, ‘The Island’ is where WorldSBK if often at its unrivalled best, whatever the story is

Australia: home to koala bears and kangaroos, Bondi Beach and Ayers Rock; home to motorcycle racing legends and iconic motorsport venues. This weekend, the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship belongs to Australia. A country that’s given countless Phillip Island thrillers, 13 podium finishers, 11 WorldSBK winners and two Champions, this is Australia’s WorldSBK story.

A QUICK FLASHBACK: where, when and how WorldSBK and Australia first met…

Despite bundles of Phillip Island history, it wasn’t the first Australian venue hosting WorldSBK; Oran Park in Sydney welcomed World Superbike in 1988, as Mick Doohan took pole position and a double win before he made a name for himself in the 500cc Grand Prix World Championship. More native success came in 1989 with Peter Goddard and Michael Dowson. Oran Park left the calendar but was replaced by the new Australian home of WorldSBK; Phillip Island.

With 28 finishes within a second in WorldSBK, of which 16 have been by less than a 0.100s, (the last nine coming in the last five years), Phillip Island is stunning. The fast, flowing nature has given some amazing moments in the Championship’s history, from the once closest finish of all time back in 1999 featuring Carl Fogarty and Troy Corser (0.005s) to the now closest ever finish between Leon Haslam and Michel Fabrizio (0.004s). On our last visit, it was a maiden Yamaha win for Toprak Razgatlioglu in Race 1, which gave the second-closest podium of all-time, whilst Race 2 saw Alex Lowes defeat Kawasaki teammate Jonathan Rea. Then, there’s one of the most dominant wins of all time from Anthony Gobert back in 2000’s Race 1, Garry McCoy’s first and only win in Race 2, 2004 and Troy Corser’s final win in 2006.

Australia also gave many stars in WorldSBK. Troy Corser arrived in 1995, becoming a rookie winner and runner-up. Corser took a first title for Ducati in 1996 – Australia’s first too – repeating it in 2005 for Suzuki. However, between Corser’s titles, another Troy had arrived; Bayliss. Into WorldSBK as Carl Fogarty’s replacement halfway through 2000, his first full season in 2001 saw him become Champion. Back from three years in MotoGP™, he took the 2006 title, repeating it a final time in 2008. Five titles by two of the biggest names in WorldSBK, Australia can be proud.

RECENT YEARS: some of the best season-openers we’ve ever seen

However, it’s perhaps more that Phillip Island’s usual curtain-raising status sets the season for a frantic WorldSBK season to come that in recent years has cemented it as an all-time classic. Besides the stunning 2020 battles, a year before was outright domination by Alvaro Bautista as the rookie Spaniard dominated the event to take a stunning hat-trick on his debut, after a dominant maiden win in Race 1. It was also a milestone round for the Championship, with the introduction of the all-new, ever-popular three-race format.

In 2018, Marco Melandri took an opening double, completed with a thrilling showdown in Race 2 with Jonathan Rea, which would prove to be his last win. 2017 and 2016 were both events dominated by Rea, as he beat Chaz Davies in final lap battles, whereas in 2015, Phillip Island marked the start of one of the most illustrious periods in the Championship’s history. Jonathan Rea took a maiden Kawasaki win on his debut in Race 1, whilst Leon Haslam overhauled him in a showdown in Race 2. From the first win of Rea’s time at Kawasaki to Eugene Laverty’s last win to-date a year before, the Irishman will get to sign-off his career at a track that holds special memories.

WorldSSP HIGHLIGHTS: a fair share of historic moments

That’s just in WorldSBK: the FIM Supersport World Championship has enjoyed some of its most magical moments on ‘The Island’. In 2001, it was an Australian 1-2-3 with Kevin Curtain winning, whilst in 2002 it was Andrew Pitt who won, and in 2003, Chris Vermeulen. Wildcard fever had spread outside of WorldSBK for 2004 as Josh Brookes made a name for himself by winning a colossal WorldSSP race at home, before Andrew Pitt took Australia’s last win at the circuit to-date in 2008. Since then, the Europeans have won but classics have continued, with 2017’s epic fight between Roberto Rolfo and Lucas Mahias a true classic. In 2022, there’ll be plenty of reasons for Australians to cheer in the class, as Oli Bayliss (BARNI Spark Racing Team) aims to utilise his experience of his home track and put in a stunning display at the circuit his father, Troy, won at in WorldSBK six times.

ROUNDING OUT: Special memories from the past, present and more to come in the future

Australia has a special place in WorldSBK’s heart with 329 podium places, 118 wins, 107 fastest laps, 86 pole positions, five WorldSBK titles and a legacy that continues to live on through some of its best riders’ next generation. Phillip Island as a circuit has seen it all too, with 28 different winners from 61 races – of which seven won on their new-manufacturer debuts (Razgatlioglu for Yamaha in 2020, Bautista for Ducati in 2019, Rea for Kawasaki in 2015, Laverty for Suzuki in 2014, Sylvain Guintoli for Aprilia in 2013, Haslam for Suzuki in 2010 and John Kocinski for Honda in 1997). A true rider’s circuit and a venue of epic stature and history, here’s to the next chapter as we welcome Phillip Island back onto the calendar after a season off it in 2021. It’s good to be back!

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