The first race of the year was characterized by tough battles for position, with, as expected, BMW newcomer Toprak Razgatlioglu (at the front of the picture ahead of Locatelli, Petrucci, Van der Mark and Sam Lowes) as one of the most influential figures. The main players included rookies like Bulega and Iannone (© BMW Motorrad WorldSBK).

A memorable first day of racing of the 2024 season in Australia

Except for the battle for victory, there could be some impressive battles for position before the lights went out at the start in Phillip Island for the first time this season. As we had feared in advance, it was an Ducati that was safely in the lead from shortly after the stop to change tires at half-time. Thanks to the advantages she was granted in terms of maximum speed, Nicolo Bulega was able to seamlessly build on his countless best times in the preliminary tests, and the reigning WorldSSP world champion won the race with ease. It’s difficult to understand why many commentators spoke of a surprise afterwards, but it’s still something we’ve seen in racing for decades. In any case, if Bulega’s teammate Alvaro Bautista hadn’t been too impetuous at work, there would probably have been a continuation of the results from last year’s Sunday, when the Spaniard drove up and away from the field together with his then stable-mate Rinaldi. Below are the most important events on the first racing day of the 2024 season.

Nicolo Bulega ( Ducati) ahead of Andrea Iannone (GoEleven Ducati) – two of the main players on Saturday and for real experts their top performance is anything but a surprise. The former already dominated the preliminary tests and the latter delivered an impressive showdown under in MotoGP.

The third free practice session on Saturday morning

While Bautista and Rea wanted to prove early on how much their experience was worth after the botched Friday, only the Spaniard managed to catch up to the top for the time being. Kawasaki ace Alex Lowes continued his excellent results from the previous day right from the start, while his twin brother Sam went off badly in turn 11. Scott Redding also crashed shortly afterwards on his Bonovo Action BMW. Like Alvaro Bautista, Razgatlioglu made good on his announcement from the day before and achieved a reassuringly fast time in the final phase of the third free practice session, after only being ninth on Friday. Shortly before the end, Domi Aegerter also proved that his modest lap times from Friday were of little significance and was in P4 ahead of GYTR Yamaha team colleague Remy Gardner with one minute to go. Garrett Gerloff was also able to impress with sixth place in the last free practice session on Saturday morning, while Yamaha newcomer Rea only finished thirteenth.

Route sketch of the Phillip Island circuit with the harmless long lap penalty area in turn 4 (formerly Honda Corner, recently renamed after “Jack-Ass”), where penalized drivers usually hardly lose any time or even positions.

The sixteenth Phillip Island Superpole with many surprises

Of the “Big Three”, only Toprak Razgatlioglu was able to convince on the BMW M-1000RR, which was still quite new for him, when he managed the fifth-best time. The reigning world champion Bautista, on the other hand, had to make do with 9th place on the grid and record world champion Jonathan Rea struggled with problems on the Yamaha R1, which was still unfamiliar to him, which meant that in the end the Northern Irishman couldn’t do more than P11. But “Magic Michael” van der Mark also had to suffer a setback due to a crash with the unpleasant 16th place on the grid, as did Danilo Petrucci in only twelfth place, Garret Gerloff in P14 and Kawasaki newcomer Axel Bassani in 15th place on the grid. Things went similarly badly for him too last year, two-time runner-up Michael Ruben Rinaldi on the Motocorsa Ducati with 10th place. This meant that it was mainly rookies like Bulega as fastest, Iannone (P2) and Sam Lowes as eighth who shaped the sixteenth Superpole in Phillip Island. In addition, Dominique Aegerter (Yamaha), who will already be on the front row in 2023, will be fourth this time ahead of Toprak and his former Yamaha teammate Locatelli.

Group picture of the top three with an Australian WSBK vice world champion, from the right Kawasaki ace Alex Lowes (P3), Nicolo Bulega (Ducati, pole sitter), Andrea Iannone (Ducati, P2) and Chris Vermeulen (former MotoGP pilot, WSSP world champion 2003 and WorldSBK vice world champion). 2005).

Lightning starter Bautista and his first fatal mistake of the season

The little Spaniard impressively demonstrated right from the start how little his 5 or 6 kilograms of extra weight could slow down his forward momentum due to the new regulations. According to him, there was no sign of the disadvantage he suffered as he moved from position 9 on the grid to second position at turn 1. A little later, however, the Spaniard was conceded by Iannone and a lap later by Alex Lowes and Toprak. Afterwards, Sam Lowes squeezed past Bautista on the inside, but couldn’t hold the line and both of them lost several positions because some drivers were able to immediately overtake them on the inside. This was followed by the little Ducati figurehead’s first fatal mistake of the season, which caused him to fall back to last place in the field due to his crash. After 6 laps in the lead, Iannone was joined by Bulega, who didn’t hesitate for long and took the lead one round later. Behind them at the pit stop after 9 laps were Alex Lowes, Iannone, Razgatlioglu and Petrucci. The Turk drove back onto the track a little too early, which resulted in a time penalty. Locatelli, who then briefly led, stayed out, like several others, until lap 11, before he also went to change his tires in the pits as required.

Alvaro Bautista ( Ducati) on the seat of his pants – this is certainly not how the reigning two-time world champion had imagined the start of the season. After being pushed to the outside by Sam Lowes shortly beforehand, the 8-time WSBK record winner from Phillip Island tried the crowbar, which, as this picture from round 4 shows, went badly wrong.

The return of monotony – no real fight for victory

Shortly after the pit stops, what we had already feared in advance happened, see also our article entitled “The Explanation” from February 21, 2024. If his lead before the pit stop was only about half a second, it was for Bulega on lap 11 It had already been over 3 seconds by which he had distanced himself from his closest pursuers. After 14 of 20 rounds it was already over 4 seconds and from now on it was all about the places behind. Andrea Locatelli showed his best side and at the same time proved how good the Yamaha still is compared to the rest of the competition. Before Iannone, the 2020 WSSP winner in Australia and then also the superior world champion of the first pandemic season, ensured a triple Italian triumph. Behind him was Toprak, who, however, crossed the checkered flag too close to Alex Lowes, meaning he only finished fifth due to his time penalty. Aegerter took sixth place on the second-best Yamaha ahead of Van der Mark (BMW), Petrucci (Ducati), Gerloff (BMW) and Vierge (Honda) in tenth. Bautista with P15 and just one point ahead of Oettl and Rea (both Yamaha).

Remy Gardner crashed innocently and the perpetrator Axel Bassani received a long lap penalty, which, however, hardly cost any time in Phillip Island and was therefore a more than mild punishment. Bradley Ray also ended up in the grass but, like Bautista, was able to continue, but then came last.

The conclusion before the last day of racing Down Under

For Jonathan Rea it will probably be one of his most stressful experiences when it comes to his debut at Pata Yamaha. Only a miracle can give him back the current complete lack of trust in the R1 in time, which means a frustrating start to the season for the best Superbike pilot of all time. The situation is completely different for Bautista and Toprak, because both can currently be sure that their bike is very competitive and a podium in the last two races of the weekend must therefore be the goal. Thanks to the preference given by FIM and Dorna, the Ducati factory team still has a clear advantage, making Bulega and Bautista the clear favorites for Sunday. Nuances can make a difference behind this, but as long as the two drive without mistakes, the outcome should be similar to last year. On February 26, 2023, Locatelli was in third place, over 9 seconds behind Alvaro and his factory team colleague Rinaldi achieved two safe second places. The only thing that could probably change this time is rain (although the forecast shows a low probability of this) or driving errors like Bautista’s on Saturday.

Thanks to Andrea “The Maniac” Iannone (GoEleven Ducati, here ahead of Lowes, Toprak and Bulega), the first race was absolutely exciting and varied at the beginning. Even Jonathan Rea (Yamaha, with the 65 in front of van der Mark on the summit) was still in a somewhat promising position here. Unfortunately, shortly after the forced pit stop (due to the risk that the tires would wear too much before the total distance was reached), the tension in the fight for victory disappeared.

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© WorldSBK).