The opening race of 2018 would be the proof of the new rules. Would anyone be able to break the Ducati and Kawasaki dominance at a windy seaside?
Tom Sykes led Marco Melandri into the first turn with Jonathan Rea charging round the outside to challenge Melandri out of the corner and take the inside line to take second place and slot in behind his Kawasaki teammate. Eugene Laverty and Xavi Fores were joined by a charging Chaz Davies to round to the top six, albeit almost a second off the front three.
After a lap, Sykes led by almost a second, while Rea held off Melandri. Melandri's Ducati was fitted with the new taller Pirelli tyre and, added to his short stature, this made his bike look very unstable down the windy straight, but it didn't affect his speed.
Eugene Laverty started to drop back, unable to hold off Fores's challenge, and his race would be just dropping back from fight to fight while Sykes kept up a punishing pace at the front.
On the third lap, with Sykes still over a second clear from Rea on the second Kawasaki, Melandri hopped and skipped his skating Ducati down the straight and took second place off Rea into the corner, but Rea kept his speed round the outside of the right-handed corner and took second place back, keeping to the left into turn two, a left-handed corner.
As the front three kept up their brutal rhythm at the front, Chaz Davies joined Xavi Fores, having passed Eugene Laverty, and the pair stuck together as the front three dragged out their lead. Davies had to put his plans to haul in Fores when he was joined by Michael van der Mark, fresh from his fight with his Yamaha teammate and Laverty.
Van der Mark and Davies duelled for a few laps eventually passing him at the halfway mark, only to lose fifth place back to Davies who stopped conserving his tyre and started spending his rubber, realising that the race wasn't a normal slow-paced Phillip Island strategic affair.
Fifteen laps in, with the front three over five seconds clear of the Ducatis of Fores and Davies, Melandri started hounding Rea and, powering out of the last turn, Melandri bounded down the straight and took second place cleanly into the first turn.
Jonathan Rea had no answer. At first it looked like he was settling for third place, seeing that the front two were still hot, but as his lap time dropped, it was apparent that he had no rear tyre grip. Luckily, he had a six-second lead over fourth place, but as his pace dropped, Chaz Davies passed Xavi Fores and started dragging the independent Ducati with him.
Jonathan Rea looked back and stared at his rear tyre as he saw the Ducatis behind him closing. A lap later, they were both on him and he had no answer, his tyre just not giving him the grip he needed.
Meanwhile, back at the front, with four laps to go, Marco Melandri bounced his bike out of the last corner and slipstreamed Tom Sykes as he powered onto the straight, wobbling his novelty-tyred Panigale past the stable Kawasaki and he took the lead well before the corner at the end of the straight. For the remaining four laps, Melandri drew out a lead until the flag, winning the race over a second clear of Tom Sykes, while an aeon behind them, Chaz Davies snatched the last podium place ahead of Xavi Fores. Fores being the highest-placed independent rider joined the other two Ducatis and the Kawasaki.
Marco Melandri has now won at Phillip Island in every class he's contended. Tom Sykes, after equalling Troy Corser's pole position record earlier in the day, had his best season start of his career, for once not finding the offensive wind capable of slowing him down. Chaz Davies in third place turned what has been a terrible weekend, one he had to put on a brave face to cover his displeasure, into a success.
Xavi Fores starts race two in pole position, next to Jonathan Rea and sixth-placed Alex Lowes.
|1||33||M. MELANDRI||Ducati Panigale R|
|2||66||T. SYKES||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||1.180|
|3||7||C. DAVIES||Ducati Panigale R||9.265|
|4||12||X. FORES||Ducati Panigale R||9.821|
|5||1||J. REA||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||13.896|
|6||22||A. LOWES||Yamaha YZF R1||17.028|
|7||2||L. CAMIER||Honda CBR1000RR||21.514|
|8||50||E. LAVERTY||Aprilia RSV4 RF||23.662|
|9||60||M. VAN DER MARK||Yamaha YZF R1||27.430|
|10||36||L. MERCADO||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||27.446|
|11||76||L. BAZ||BMW S 1000 RR||27.748|
|12||45||J. GAGNE||Honda CBR1000RR||28.466|
|13||54||T. RAZGATLIOGLU||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||30.000|
|14||40||R. RAMOS||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||53.619|
|15||37||O. JEZEK||Yamaha YZF R1||1'02.682|
|16||99||P. JACOBSEN||Honda CBR1000RR||1'09.775|
|RET||81||J. TORRES||MV Agusta 1000 F4||3 Laps|
|RET||17||T. HERFOSS||Honda CBR1000RR||3 Laps|
|RET||68||Y. HERNANDEZ||Kawasaki ZX-10RR||9 Laps|
|RET||25||D. FALZON||Yamaha YZF R1||13 Laps|
|RET||47||W. MAXWELL||Yamaha YZF R1||21 Laps|