Aruba Ducati’s Marco Melandri has laid down his marker for the opening WorldSBK round of the season at Phillip Island, setting the fastest time on the opening day of testing as rivals Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes both crashed at the same corner but in different sessions.
The Italian’s 1’30.726 in the opening period was enough to seal top spot with Sykes and Rea, on their works Kawasakis, next along. Reigning champ Rea was half a second off the pace with a 1’31.256 and being chased hard by Leon Camier on the revitalised Red Bull Honda, who ended the day on a 1’31.554.
Wind was a seriously-limiting factor today and gusts got so bad at times that some riders opted to miss track time rather than risk a crash. Or another crash, in some cases. Many riders did fall at some stage, including both the Kawasaki boys.
Sykes was lucky to walk away from a big highside at turn 11 in the afternoon. His fall heavily bashed - but did not fracture - his left ankle and foot. His bike caught up with him as he slid to a stop and caused him even more bruising as a result.
Rea also fell at high speed in turn 11, in the morning session. Such were the afternoon winds, and then a red flag incident just as Rea was thinking of taking to the track again in the afternoon, that the world champion elected not to risk it today.
Camier was a strong fourth as he persevered with the team’s existing electronics package from Cosworth. Only Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha) of the top riders improved his best lap in the afternoon session.
Top independent rider was Xavi Fores (Barni Racing Team Ducati) in sixth place, one up on Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia).
Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK) was eighth, and like his team-mate Michael van der Mark, he was one of the few very top men to go faster in the afternoon session.
Lone MV rider Jordi Torres (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) was ninth after only riding in the morning session. Torres had crashed so hard into turn two that his bike flipped end-over-end and was completely destroyed. The impact was so strong that his single sided rear swingarm was sheared completely in half. The rider was unhurt, but his bike was so badly damaged that his team opted to wait until day two to venture out again.
Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) rounded out the top ten and returnee WorldSBK rider Loris Baz (GULF ALTHEA BMW Racing Team) was 11th on a day where the winds prevented most riders and teams from completing all the tests they had intended to do.
Aussie competitor Wayne Maxwell (Yamaha Racing Team Australia) placed 16th as a one-event rider, one place up on new regular runner Jake Gagne (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team).
PJ Jacobsen (TripleM Honda World Superbike Team) was 22nd and last of the WorldSBK riders on show.
One more day of official testing remains on Tuesday 20th February.
WorldSSP Day One round-up
After the first day of official WorldSSP testing at Phillip Island 2017 world champion Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) showed his continuing pace to lead home his team-mate Federico Caricasulo (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) by just 0.021 seconds. Winds that blew hard and changed direction often proved a challenge to all comers, despite the dry track conditions, and contributed to several crashes.
On a strong day for Yamaha riders there were some exceptions to the R6 rule. Closest challenger to the official Yamaha pairing came from a three cylinder Triumph, with Luke Stapleford (Profile Racing Triumph) third and 0.322 seconds down on Mahias’s best time of 1’34.088.
A positive start to his new career in WorldSSP saw Sandro Cortese (Kallio Racing Yamaha) fourth fastest, despite suffering a slow crash late in the day.
Five-times world champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) was fifth, working his way back into PI mode after injury had affected his Australian weekend in 2017.
In an all-new team Jules Cluzel (NRT Yamaha) was sixth fastest, with returning WorldSSP competitor Randy Krummenacher (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team) making it five Yamahas in the top seven places.
On home ground in his full-time WorldSSP adventure Anthony West (EAB antwest Racing) was eighth.
Despite a fall in the morning Raffaele De Rosa (MV Agusta Reparto Corse by Vamag) placed ninth with his team-mate Ayrton Badovini (MV Agusta Reparto Corse by Vamag) tenth.
Andrew Irwin (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) suffered a broken hand after a crash and his team ruled him out of the rest of the testing and race action at Phillip Island.