As the FIM Supersport World Championship (WorldSSP) rolls into the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, the fight for the 2018 title begins and they’ll be some hungry riders wanting to get their hands on the crown. There is no better setting than the picturesque 4.4km track on the South East coast of Australia, and at a track where four riders on the grid have won around, we are set for a barnstormer of an Yamaha Finance Australian opening round.
Reigning world champion Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) quickly became reacquainted with his Yamaha YZF-R6 after a few days testing, and if his pace in the two day official Phillip Island test is anything to go by, he will be the man to beat. After taking second position here last year, he certainly has a strong pace to contend with. However not far off his tail is team-mate Federico Caricasulo (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team), who despite struggling with inconsistency last season had a solid two day test, finishing in third overall. In a similar position to Mahias, the Italian took second position here in 2016, proving he has the speed to fight at the front around the fast circuit.
Mahias’ main rival for the championship is Turkish rider Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), who remains in WorldSSP for his 11th full season and will be aiming to take his sixth title, after his hopes came crashing down at Magny-Cours last year. Scoring points here in the WorldSBK race, Sofuoglu has taken three victories and five podium finishes in Australia, and despite coming into some issues recently, he is always the man to beat in WorldSSP.
Flying the flag for Honda this season is the CIA Landlord Insurance Honda squad, who are running with Niki Tuuli and Andrew Irwin for 2018. But disaster struck the team throughout the two day Official test, as Irwin broke his hand on the opening day and the Northern Irish youngster has been forced to pull out of his debut weekend. Tuuli will be running the lone bike for the weekend, and the Finnish rider is continuing to adjust to his new bike and team, but taking a top five finish last season stands him in good stead for 2018.
MV Agusta Reparto Corse by Vamag will be running two bikes this year with Raffaele De Rosa and Ayrton Badovini at the helm. With a wealth of racing experience behind him, Italian De Rosa has raced in Australia before but has failed to impress so far. But with his new Italian team he will be hoping to put up a strong fight Down Under, following a tough end to 2017 in WorldSBK. Joined by Badovini, the team will be hoping to improve and challenge for podium finishes – especially considering the bike won this race last season in a stunning final lap battle.
New riders to the class for 2018 are Randy Krummenacher (BARDHAL Evans Bros. WorldSSP Team) and Sandro Cortese (Kallio Racing), and the duo both impressed throughout the two day Official test. Swiss rider Krummenacher ended the two days on the top of the timing screens with his Yamaha YZF-R6, but this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise as he took the race win here in 2016 on his debut. Whilst Cortese makes his WorldSSP debut this week, and with a strong initial pace and a top five finish overall in testing, it will be interesting to see how the 2013 Moto3 World Champion gets on around the circuit he is so familiar with.
The much anticipated WorldSSP bikes will head out on track for FP1 at 10.40 LT (+11 GMT) as they have three days to prepare for the all important race at 13.30LT on Sunday 25th February.
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