Double delight as world champ Rea makes flying start
Jonathan Rea made the perfect start in pursuit of his third consecutive World Superbike Championship crown, racking up a faultless double during round one of the 2017 series at Phillip Island in Australia - taking his career tally in WSB to 40 wins and counting.
Neither victory came easy, with Rea having to hold off closest rival Chaz Davies (Ducati) on both occasions, with the biggest victory margin over the Welshman, a minuscule 2/100ths of a second.
Speaking afterwards, Rea said of his two tightly contested victories: "Phillip Island was really rewarding and to win two last lap battles here means a lot because it is such a hard track to lead from the front on.
While that 40th career victory means a lot to me and my team, it is more important to put a good score on the board for round one."
Despite his back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, it was the Ulsterman's first World Superbike victory since Germany last season, which is a huge confidence boost over Davies, who was prolific in the final stages of the 2016 season aboard the Aruba.it Ducati.
In both races, the lead changed on multiple occasions, but with Rea starting from ninth on the grid in race two under the new rules, he had to fight all the way, with less than a second cover the top four at the end of 22 pulsating laps.
"When I went through to clean air in the lead with three or four to go, I was worried that the other riders may be learning too much about the bike," said Rea of his factory Kawasaki ZX-10RR. "I had to be sure just to change the lines up a little bit but on the last lap, from Siberia corner onwards, I just put my head down and completed a very good back section."
Recounting the closing stages, he explained: "I covered my line into the MG hairpin and got myself tucked in as well as I could on the front straight. Nothing magic happened but I feel so good about this bike.
"The way things have changed have suited me. I can ride less on the limit and we have more tyre left to fight with at the end of races, compared to last year," he said of his updated, world-beating machine.
Davies kept Rea honest in both encounters and with a 40-point haul after a brace of second-placed finishes, meaning the Welshman keeps the gap between himself and Rea to just 10 points going into round two in a fortnight's time in Thailand.
2013 champion Tom Sykes put his factory Kawasaki on the podium in third spot during Saturday's opening race, but had to settle for sixth on Sunday, as former 250cc Grand Prix world champion Marco Melandri (Ducati) took the final podium spot on his return to WSB. Pata Yamaha's Alex Lowes showed his new-found maturity with a pair of impressive fourth-place finishes and will have impressed team owner Paul Denning.
Englishman Leon Camier was fifth in race one with Barni Racing (Ducati) rider Xavi Fores sixth, but the Spaniard went one better in race two, leaving Camier having to settle for eighth on the MV Agusta.
Monaco-based Irishman Eugene Laverty didn't have quite the World Superbike return he expected after two years in MotoGP. Riding the RSV4 factory-backed Milwaukee Aprilia, Laverty finished eighth and 10th in the two races.