After Round One in Australia left mouths agape across the motorcycling world, focus in the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship now shifts over to Chang International Circuit and the Pirelli Thai Round, World Superbike’s fifth trip to the south-east Asian nation. Tropical heat, rapturous fans and stellar racing are on the menu this weekend, a triple treat to match the mouthwatering three WorldSBK races that will take place around the 4.554km track.
At least one man will land in Buriram, the ‘City of Happiness’, with a grin on his face. Álvaro Bautista’s (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) hat-trick of triumphs Down Under raised as many new questions as it answered. The Spaniard was incredibly ruthless in Race 1 and Race 2, winning both full-length races by double figure gaps – as well as emerging victorious from a bruising Tissot Superpole Race battle with Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK). No one expected such sheer domination, with the Ducati rider only really showing his hand once the lights went out. So, all bets are off in Buriram, a venue Bautista is nonetheless much less acquainted with than Phillip Island having only raced there once before. Can Bautista re-create that debut magic in Thailand?
After such a scorching performance, the Spaniard will have a target on his back – and Rea himself taking aim. These are uncharted waters for the reigning world champion, who was in damage limitation mode throughout the entire weekend in Australia. From that perspective, it was a fantastic round for Rea, with three runner-up spots keeping him only 13 points below the new championship leader (in 2018 he sat 19 behind after Round 1). But rest assured that the Northern Irishman will not be satisfied with remaining best of the rest for another round. Chang International Circuit is a happy hunting ground for the 31-year-old – his results there since 2015 read 1st-1st, 1st-2nd, 1st-1st, 1st-4th – and Rea will be out to make a statement of his own. There is perhaps no one more capable of rising to the challenge than the Champion.
Australia was a mixed bag for the other men in green and red. Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) showed anything but complacency in a phenomenal Race 2 duel with Rea, yet a tumble in the opening race left him with a bittersweet taste leaving Victoria. Haslam’s adaptation to the ZX-10RR has been nearly flawless and the Englishman will be eager to prove it again in Buriram, where he picked up two second-place finishes in 2015.
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) meanwhile made significant gains in the last of the opening races, making it to seventh after a tough week on the timing sheets. The Welshman knows not to put too much weight in any Australian results – he no-scored in his 2011, WorldSSP title-winning campaign, then missed out both races in 2012 due to a broken wrist and has often struggled since. His season starts anew in Thailand, the scene of his penultimate win in WorldSBK.
And what about Yamaha? At Phillip Island, four YZF-R1s lined up on the grid. Three finished inside the top six in every race; all four inside the top eight. The key to success is consistency and both Pata Yamaha and top independent team GRT Yamaha seem to have it in spades. The latter can even boast the leading Yamaha in the championship standings, as Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) sits level with Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and one point clear of Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team). All three have scored podiums at Chang International Circuit in the past two seasons and are ready to tussle again – with rookie Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) closing the gap after a hugely impressive WorldSBK debut.
BMW Motorrad meanwhile roll into South East Asia after an eye-catching return to WorldSBK. Sunday struggles in Australia for Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK) might have slightly dampened the mood but the new S1000 RR’s potential – aided by the 2013 World Champion’s world-class talents – was on display all weekend. Controlling an already solid package, don’t be surprised if the swift Yorkshireman or Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) have saved some tricks up the sleeves of their white leathers.
Lessons will have also been learned inside the Moriwaki Althea Honda Team after an intriguing week on the Island. Leon Camier and Ryuichi Kiyonari started testing on the Monday without a reference point and finished Sunday inside the points, the former even breaking into the top 10. Further steps forward should be taken under the Thai sun.
The Destination of Speed awaits from 15th-17th March, as the second round of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship gets underway! Catch the first of three exciting races from 16:00 local time (GMT+7).
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