Kawasaki Racing Team riders Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam rode together for more than half race distance in the first WorldSBK race of the 2019 season, with Rea finishing in second place overall and Haslam falling after mid-race distance, but remounting to finish 15th.
In warm and dry conditions the first of three WorldSBK races at Phillip Island got underway with Rea in pole position and Haslam second.
Jonathan had set a new track best lap of 1’29.413 in the new-look one session Superpole qualifying period to raise his career total of Superpole wins to 17. Haslam’s full–time return to WorldSBK action continued in a positive way in practice, with his second place in Superpole just 0.211 seconds from his team-mate.
At the start of a dramatic WorldSBK opening race, in which class rookie Alvaro Bautista finally won by a large margin, Rea and Haslam rode together, setting a pace to conserve their tyres for a fight towards the end of a 22-lap contest.
Rea was passed by Haslam on lap four, and Leon was ahead for the bulk of the race until his slow speed slip off at turn four, losing the front at the apex of the corner. He remounted to score a championship point.
Entering the latter stages of the race Rea enjoyed an advantage to the battling riders behind; an advantage that would see him finish a comfortable second overall.
On Sunday the 24th of February there will be a ten-lap ‘sprint race’, which will not only score championship points, but also determine the final 22-lap race starting grid. The third and final race of the Phillip Island weekend will take place at 15.00, local time.
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “I am very happy with my race, to be honest. Looking from Monday through Tuesday at the tests, I thought the best target we could hope for was second, and in the end we achieved that. We arrived at the end of the race with a good tyre and that was the main target today. Now we have 22 laps of race data we can really understand to make some improvements tomorrow. The race today was just to conserve the tyre. The target was to ride very smoothly and arrive at the end of the race. When you see Superpole you see our real potential, in the winter tests and during the season at ‘normal’ tracks.”
Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “Honestly we did not know what happened when I slid off, because I was not pushing that hard, feeling quite relaxed. I was trying to conserve the tyres, and I know Johnny was as well. If I had pushed too hard or made a big mistake I would understand it, so we have to analyse the data to see why I lost the front there. I feel we could have gone as second faster per lap at any point, so we were conserving and conserving. We know we have good pace. Everything has been really good all weekend, and even my pace after the crash would still have been enough, so there are positives. But at the minute it is a hard one to take. In the sprint race tomorrow everybody is going to go that bit more all-out, and then we have the long race afterwards.”