Surprises are the only thing that can be safely predicted about motorbike racing, and Phillip Island is unique enough to deliver them in spades. The long gap, dseven weeks before the second race, gives Phillip Island the air of pre-season testing … with points.
When you consider the surprise that Suzuki had their first win since 2010, MV Agusta had been waiting since 1976. When Eugene Laverty is the first World Superbike rider to win back-to-back races on different machines, Jules Cluzel goes and stops World Supersport from getting a new race winner in the time most likely to deliver a fresh winner. These great surprises overshadowed the new EVO class or the fact that Ducati had two fourth places with Davide Giugliano on a bike that didn't even score points in some races last year. When there was a fear that the Supersport tyres might not last the distance, credible or not, an exploding engine brought out red flags, guaranteeing that we will never know if it was a genuine concern or not.
It was clear throughout qualifying that the Suzuki had turned a cornerin development. While Phillip Island is different enough that, being mostly corners that riders love, a lack of power isn't as much of a hindrance as other tracks, having more power is always a benefit. The Suzuki looked to be up on power, but Alex Lowes made it look like a really good bike during qualifying. Come Sunday, Eugene Laverty showed that, apart from the fact he is an immense talent, this year's Suzuki might not be the dog it was last year. It isn't known yet how the loss of the engine in the second race will affect the bike, though. Lowes was affected by an ankle injury he suffered in Saturday's free practice, but he has seven weeks to recover before the next race.
The Aprilia, as demonstrated by Sylvain Guintoli, and to a lesser degree Marco Melandri, is still a very fast bike. Even the new engine restrictions brought in this year don't slow it down, and, once again, Guintoli leads the title chase after the first round. The new silver livery also makes it look fast, and, as any eleven year old will tell you, that matters. Guintoli had several months without riding, after his collarbone surgery last November, but he appears to be fit once more. Melandri unsurprisingly looked less confident, in spite of a second place in the first race, still getting to grips with the bike.
The bike everyone rates as the best all-round package is the Kawasaki, which is why so many EVO teams have chosen it as their machine. David Salom on the factory EVO bike was the number one EVO machine in both races. Tom Sykes, suffering in both races from slow starts due to poor qualifying, was able in the second race to do a lot better after setup changes that let him close the gap to the front. Sykes describes Phillip Island as his worst track, and seemed happier that it was behind him than he was for the actual podium. Loris Baz, second in the title chase, changed front tyres between races and the improvement that made was visible, as he was keeping up with Guintoli's Aprilia until the race was red-flagged.
Davide Giugliano returned to Ducati after a year, thanks to a sponsor change, on an Aprilia. In both races, he finished in fourth place, but made the Panigale look like the beast it was born to be. While the bike is still down on power, it looks like a manageable package that is likely capable of winning races. Chaz Davies struggled to get the bike to behave, managing two eigth places that would have looked respectable last year. Niccolo Canepa, on the EVO Panigale, showed moments of brilliance, but he just lost out to Salom's Kawasaki in both races.
Honda still looks to be struggling. They don't sell enough superbikes to justify the rumoured V4 homologation special and that means Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam are campaigning with the Fireblade once more. Admittedly, it's a new improved version of the CBR1000RR, but it's still a bike that's down on power, especially compared to the Kawasaki. With Suzuki suddenly getting their bike to work, Honda could have another year of head-scratching while Rea and Haslam loyally push a little harder than is safe.
BMW no longer compete in World Superbike, and the private bikes, including the EVOs are not doing that well. Sylvain Barrier's EVO bike looked the best of the lot, with local man Glenn Allerton getting points in both races. The new MV Agusta F4, with Claudio Corti at the handlebars, beat the EBR 1190RX, but it's far too soon to judge either bike.
In World Supersport, red flags, five lap sprints and falling favourites aside, the MV Agusta is doing much better, taking a maiden victory thanks mostly to Jules Cluzel's brain-out wonder-laps. Kenan Sofuoglu and Michael Van Der Mark both had suspiciously identical-looking crashes, which points to over-cooking cold tyres, strange track conditions, odd weather or just plain bad luck, much to the belefit of Cluzel and Kev Coghlan. Yamaha's Coghlan miscounted the laps, thinking he had one more to go, but managed to not let that spoil his second place.
New qualifying? Yes, it works. EVO class? We had a full grid thanks to this cost-cutter, so another success. New bikes? Too soon to judge MV Agusta and EBR, but they made it to the end of the races, so there's that. Seven week wait until the next race? No, that is never going to be a good idea.