WorldSBK with the reigning world champion at the front – this picture was seen for the first time on Sunday afternoon at the season opener in Phillip Island. Alvaro Bautista had a crash on Saturday and therefore had a lot to make up for on the second day. Nevertheless, things didn’t go quite as planned for the Spaniard in the sprint race and run 2 either.

Eventful second racing day of the 2024 season in Australia

After Saturday had already been very varied, there was an increase in drama on the second day of racing and the last race of the weekend was particularly tough. It had already been decided on Friday that for safety reasons there would be no races over the full distance without interruption because the Pirelli tires could not hold up on the new surface. On Saturday there was a flag to flag race with a mandatory stop to change tires at half time. Of course, this was not necessary for the sprint race on Sunday morning and a stoppage in the afternoon was intended to prevent this scenario. For the dominator of the first race, there shouldn’t be a repeat of his triumph, although things initially looked very good for Nicolo Bulega ( Ducati).

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 Tissot Sprint Race with lots of action

For rookie Tarran Mackenzie on the MIE Honda, the race ended after the warm-up lap. The former BSB top driver had to pit with technical problems and was then unable to return to the track. In the first half of the race, the duel between former MotoGP star Andrea Iannone (GoEleven Ducati) and Kawasaki ace Alex Lowes dominated the sprint race. After one lap, the Italian WSBK rookie was leading ahead of the Englishman, Bulega, Toprak, Gardner, Bautista and Sam Lowes. His twin brother took over the lead one round later, followed by Iannone, Toprak, Gardner, Bulega and Bautista. Shortly before the halfway point of the race, the man with the 29 went to the front again, but Lowes stayed close to him. But the sixth lap brought a preliminary decision in favor of the Kawasaki factory pilot.

Just like last year, the private pilots in particular proved how fast the Ducati Panigale V4R is compared to the competition thanks to its advantages with a significantly higher maximum speed. Here from left Andrea Iannone, (Team GoEleven) Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team Motocorsa Racing). It wasn’t just Jonathan Rea on the factory Yamaha who lost a lot of ground to the private Ducati riders several times at start-finish.

Preliminary decision in the sprint race – Iannone with problems

While Andrea Locatelli, who had started poorly, gradually worked his way forward from behind, Andrea Iannone went off the ideal line after turn 1, which cost him several positions and the chance of the next podium. Toprak may have touched and jostled him while overtaking, or at least he fiddled with his left handlebar and lost ground dramatically. From now on, Alex Lowes didn’t let anything take the butter off his bread, so he confidently stayed at the top and, like on his debut in the Kawasaki factory team 4 years ago, was waved off first in the same place. Behind him, Locatelli stole the show from the halfway point of the race onwards, first overtaking Bautista, who was in P5, then also conceding to Gardner and even passing his team-mate from last year. This moment must have been very hard for BMW newcomer Toprak Razgatlioglu, but the Turk was still able to secure third place ahead of Bautista. Only in position 5 this time was his new Ducati factory team colleague Bulega ahead of Gardner, Aegerter, Sam Lowes, Rinaldi and tenth Jonathan Rea. Like the day before, the Northern Irishman missed out on the points again, but things were to get even worse for him in the afternoon. His long-time teammate Alex Lowes, on the other hand, was overjoyed and said during the winner’s interview that he had tears of joy in his eyes on the run-off lap.

As usual, there was no real podium after the sprint race, but that didn’t dampen the joy of the top three. From right Toprak Razgatlioglu (BMW, P3), winner Alex Lowes (Kawasaki) and Andrea Locatelli (Yamaha). It was surprising this time that no Ducati was there, but that could be explained by Iannone’s bad luck and Bautista’s narrowly missed third place.

Johnny Rea causes red flags with Crash after 3 laps in race 2

After a good start, things looked pretty good for the Yamaha newcomer and record world champion for a long time. Jonathan Rea was initially in P10, after lap 1 he was already ninth and one round later he was already in fourth place. Toprak’s engine on his BMW M-1000RR, however, went up in smoke on lap two and the Turk had to go into the grass to avoid contaminating the track with any oil that might leak out. Then Rea crashed in turn 11 and shortly afterwards an extremely disappointed Remy Gardner hammered on the tank of his Yamaha, which had given up the ghost. Since Rea’s crash caused red flags, the Australian was fortunately able to start again later, while the Northern Irishman had to be treated in the medical center. However, several bruises and abrasions did not stop the 6-time world champion from returning immediately to his box to explain his view of the cause of the fall to his crew. According to him, he is doing well so far, although a bruised hip was the most unpleasant consequence of the fall. The frustration over the fall was particularly great, also because it came as a surprise to him.

Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) experienced one of the most difficult weekends of his long career in Phillip Island. But this had already become apparent during the preliminary tests and the record world champion currently has to try to find confidence in his new work tool. Luckily for him and his team, there is another test before the race weekend before the European season in Barcelona.

The 2020 overall winner repeated his masterpiece 4 years later

After the restart, until shortly before the finish, everything looked like the clear victory for Alvaro Bautista, which was actually expected in advance. He had crashed the day before, but his Ducati factory team colleague Bulega took his place on Saturday and won a safe victory from the middle of the race onwards. He was also quite successful on Sunday morning with P5 behind the Spaniard, but he was denied an improvement in the afternoon either. Nevertheless, the second race was almost a Ducati-only affair in terms of the first 6 to 7 places. But a man Kawasaki had been counting on since 2020 had something against it and he put in one of the strongest performances of his entire career so far. After the departure of Rea as team leader and now looked after by former WSBK pilot Pere Riba as crew chief, Alex Lowes literally grew beyond himself this weekend. While Andrea Locatelli risked too much this time and had a massive crash trying to pass the Kawasaki rider, Alex did everything right. It was only shortly before the end that he began to attack Bautista, who was struggling with deteriorating tires, and overtook the little Spaniard around the outside over the crest in order to then not let the lead he had fought for be taken away from him. After 4th place in race one, the second victory on Sunday and as overall winner with 50 points, also world championship leader, this is the reward for Alex Lowes before the European season starts on the second last weekend in March in Catalonia.

Alex Lowes (Kawasaki) with the number 22 in the Ducati Sandwich, behind Bautista (1), Rinaldi (hidden, 21) and in front of Iannone with the 29. Together with his team, the Englishman paid a lot of attention to the durability of the tires right from the start , which concerned the set-up of his ZX-10RR. This paid off on Saturday and even more so the following day in the sprint race and in run 2.

The winners and losers of the weekend

With 27 points, Bautista travels back to Spain in fifth place in the World Cup despite falling in the first run, which means he cannot be counted among the losers, like Rea or the injured Lecuona. But for example, a Scott Redding with only 5 points on the BMW after finishing all three races on the podium with the Ducati in 2020 would have to see the first round in Australia as a disaster. The same goes for Philipp Oettl, who scored 20 points on the Ducati last year, making him eighth best. With him, however, you have to keep in mind that the task on the private GMT94 Yamaha was significantly more difficult compared to 2023 on the GoEleven Ducati. It was a lot of bad luck for Remy Gardner that he had to travel from his homeland to Europe with only 8 points. Axel Bassani in particular, who pushed him off the track in the first run, is largely to blame for his misery, plus of course the bad luck with his bike, which gave up the ghost shortly before the red flag in the last race. Before that, the Australian was in a promising position. In addition to the riders who finished in the top five, the winners include rookie Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team Ducati), Domi Aegerter (Yamaha), US boy Garret Gerloff (BMW) and his brand colleague Michael van der Mark .

The fact that there were six Ducatis placed behind the outstanding winner Alex Lowes (Kawasaki) in the second race should give us something to think about, especially because four of them are private. Even winner Lowes was overtaken several times on the longest straight by private riders like Andrea Iannone, even though he was on a factory machine. For courses like Barcelona and Portimão, the same problem threatens as in previous years for competitors on other makes.
The chasing group in the second race on Sunday, with Bulega (Ducati), van der Mark (hidden), Gerloff (both BMW), Aegerter (Yamaha), Bassani (Kawasaki), Lecuona (Honda) and Oettl (Yamaha). Behind them are Redding (BMW), Ray (Yamaha), Rabat (Kawasaki), and the two MIE Honda pilots Mackenzie and Norrodin.

Standing in the World Championship after round 1 of 12

Without the outstanding performances of Alex Lowes (Kawasaki), Andrea Locatelli and Domi Aegerter (both Yamaha), the situation in the world championship in terms of brand diversity at the top would be very thin. Toprak, “Magic Michael” and the Texan Gerloff (all BMW) also prevented things from being too one-sided for Ducati with strong performances, although, as feared, they had a strong advantage in Australia.
First podium of the season for Bautista (Ducati, left) and second triumph this weekend for overall winner Alex Lowes (Kawasaki), as well as the first podium for Ducati private pilot Danilo “Petrux” Petrucci. For Yamaha newcomer Jonathan Rea, however, the start of the season was a disaster, after two races outside the points and a crash in the last race.

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