Jonathan Rea fended off Leon Haslam in a thrilling final lap duel to win the opening round of the 2015 World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island. The Ulsterman marked his Kawasaki debut in the grand manner with a superbly judged victory, hanging on despite intense pressure from Haslam and Chaz Davies throughout.
The three British riders broke away in the early stages but two of their compatriots endured messy races after being fancied beforehand. Alex Lowes had been a force throughout free practice but an error at the Honda hairpin on lap one, the Suzuki rider was forced wide and demoted to fifteenth, ending his victory challenge. Tom Sykes had navigated his way through the chaos to fourth but a brutal move from Michael van der Mark sent him off at turn one, costing him six places.
With those threats diminished, Rea, Davies and Haslam edged away from van der Mark’s Honda but the second Aprilia of Jordi Torres was emerging as a serious challenger after passing the Dutchman on lap seven. Perhaps Haslam had seen him coming, diving past Davies for second two laps later, but a dramatic moment at Stoner corner looked to have taken him out of contention. The Aprilia rider ran wide through the fast left-hander and skated over the grass, somehow staying upright, but crucial time had been lost as Davies and Torres relegated him to fourth.
Haslam was unperturbed though and unleashed a blistering series of laps to chase down his teammate Torres before the Englishman succeeded where he had failed earlier on, getting Stoner absolutely right to snatch second from Davies on the penultimate lap. Rea had led calmly throughout but with a lap to go, he was forced into a dog fight with Haslam breezing past into turn one. Kawasaki’s new signing fought straight back into the Southern Loop but a desperate move on the brakes saw Haslam regain the advantage at Honda.
Half a lap remained and Rea’s tighter line through Lukey Heights allowed him to duck back underneath the Aprilia and despite the straight-line speed of the RSV4, Leon missed out on victory by 0.039s. Davies couldn’t quite challenge on the final lap and had to settle for third with Torres marking his SBK debut with a fine fourth.
Van der Mark also made an instant impression with fifth while Sykes recovered from his early clash with the Dutchman to snatch sixth from defending champion Sylvain Guintoli. Nicolas Terol took a lonely eighth with Alex Lowes fighting back up to ninth ahead of Leon Camier, the MV Agusta rider making it six British riders in the top ten.