BIGGEST SHOCKS: the stories we DIDN’T quite predict from WorldSBK Round 1 in 2024

Monday, 4 March 2024 08:29 GMT

From new highs to unwanted all-time lows, we assess the peaks and troughs throughout that made headlines

The MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship fired into life for the 37th season of racing and what a weekend it was to open. Seven different podium finishers across four manufacturers, from rookie stardom to established guard not as strong as we thought, what are the things that shocked us after Round 1?

REA’S YAMAHA DEBUT DISASTER: 0 points, two big crashes and a lot of head-scratching

It’s possible that we couldn’t have been more wrong for Jonathan Rea’s (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) first weekend in blue. After promising signs in testing, he ended up with no points in his first three races of 2024. Suffering with heavy rear chatter from testing on Tuesday at Phillip Island – which ultimately caused the crash at Turn 11 then – the problem persisted during the weekend. He would’ve had points in Race 1 but lost 22 seconds in the pits, putting him down in 17th. He fought into P10 for the Superpole Race but only the top nine get points there. Then, in Race 2, having run as high as fourth and just starting to get comfortable, he was bit again at Turn 11 with a huge highside, leaving him being declared unfit. A weekend to frankly forget, he’s never started four straight races and failed to achieve points in any (he didn’t score any points in his last Kawasaki race in 2023). There’s work to be done for him, crew chief Andrew Pitt and the rest of the team for Barcelona. The knock-on we didn’t expect is teammate Andrea Locatelli to be so clearly the best Yamaha so far.

BAUTISTA NOT WINNING AT PHILLIP ISLAND: 8 from 9 on Ducati but nothing in 3 of 2024

Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) has always gone well at Phillip Island, even back in his Grand Prix career. He made an emphatic debut in 2019 at the track to cruise to a hat-trick and since being back at Ducati, he’d won five of six races – then 2024 happened. A crash whilst pushing through in Race 1, followed by being unable to get through on Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) in the closing stages in the Superpole Race for a podium, Bautista did grow into the weekend. However, even the lightweight Spaniard, always easy on tyres, couldn’t resist Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) on the last lap of Race 2, with the #22 passing him around the outside at Turn 9 to double up on Sunday. Bautista not winning at Phillip Island could be influenced by the fact that he’d been injured throughout testing, the new rules or something else but for the #1 not to win something in Australia was a shock. Will normal service resume for Round 2?

LOWES DOUBLES UP: extraordinary performance to lead the Championship

Always fast at Phillip Island, Alex Lowes was exceptional in 2024. He had been fast throughout testing and inside the top three, something that transferred into the season-opening round too with a fourth in Race 1 before two wins on Sunday – the first dry wins for Kawasaki since 2022. Working with Pere Riba is obviously making a big impact from the start for the #22 but the way he approached, carried out and concluded the weekend was impressive. Did we see him doubling up on Sunday after Nicolo Bulega’s ( Racing – Ducati) domination on Saturday and Bautista’s rise on Sunday? Perhaps not but that goes to show that the step Lowes and Kawasaki have made is a real one.

ROOKIES AS STRONG AS EVER: Bulega winning, Iannone holeshotting and Sam Lowes in the mix

Pole and a win for Bulega on his debut as well as Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) grabbing the holeshot in Race 1 and the Superpole Race, leading the charge of the WorldSBK brigade in his maiden race and his first World Championship event in four years were amazing things to see. Bulega demonstrated his pace throughout testing but did we actually think he’d be Ducati’s only winner of the weekend in World Superbike? As for Iannone, regardless of how much talent he’s got, the testing he's done or the track days he’s participated in, to come back in and straight away lead after four years away is arguably one of the most remarkable sights we’ve seen in WorldSBK. Add into the mix a solid debut from Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) who was a constant challenger for the top five, it’s fair to say that the rookies of 2024 won’t be disappointing. Let’s see if Tarran Mackenzie (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda) and teammate Adam Norrodin can climb the order too.

OTHER SHOCKS: a quick glance elsewhere

On Sunday, one of the biggest shocks was Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team), who after finishing 15th in the Superpole Race was third in Race 2 – he was a big beneficiary of the red flag for Jonathan Rea’s crash, having originally started in P12 but going for P7 on the restart. With only the Phillip Island test on Tuesday in his pre-season, Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) quietly went about his business and despite a huge lack of testing, surprised us with three top ten finishes. In Race 2, like Petrucci, Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team Motocorsa Racing) was sensational as he challenged for the lead in the early stages before finishing in sixth, having been 14th in Race 1.

Further down, there was big disappointment for Scott Redding (Bonovo Action BMW), who was the only BMW to not feature inside the top ten at all, with a best of P11 after a penalty for a pitlane intervention time infraction. With Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) bagging a semi-surprising podium, teammate Michael van der Mark taking a P7 and Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW) likewise in the top ten, the #45 knows there’s work to do to reach BMW’s potential.

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