Did you see that? Three takeaways from the first round of World Superbike

Feb 28, 2017

If you just glanced at the headline results from the first round of the Superbike World Championship at Phillip Island this weekend, you probably just yawned: Jonathan Rea did the double. How predictable.

Actually, anything but.

While some riders and teams got lucky, and others saw fate turn against them, it was a surprising weekend of racing with some amazing stats, starting with how close the finishes were.

Three races, total margin of victory 0.068 seconds

In Superbike race one on Saturday, Rea beat Ducati's Chaz Davies to the line by 0.042 seconds, a close finish by any standard. But for this weekend, it was an easy victory. The two finished in the same positions in Sunday's race, but the winning margin was 0.025 seconds. And that still wasn't the closest contest, by far.

In the World Supersport race, Roberto Rolfo got to the finish line ahead of Lucas Mahias by about the width of the sidewall of his front tire. Officially, the margin was 0.001 seconds, but really, it was the most literal of photo finishes as nobody was sure who hit the line first.

Highest highs, lowest lows for P.J. Jacobsen

I wanted to be inside the head of U.S. rider P.J. Jacobsen during the World Supersport race, to hear his thoughts. They must have spanned the full range of emotions.

He qualifies on the pole. "Hey, I can win this."

His bike dies in the early laps of the race. "Despair."

The red flag comes out because the track was blocked by debris from a crash. The race is restarted for a 10-lap sprint with Jacobsen back on the pole. "I can still win this!"

Jacobsen runs off track during the race and rejoins at the back of the field. "I'm going to lose so many points!"

A crash by Federico Caricasulo takes out championship contender Jules Cluzel on the last lap. Jacobsen fights back to sixth place. With Cluzel and last year's champion Kenan Sofuoglu (out due to an off-season injury) scoring no points, Jacobsen's pole-sitting weekend ends on an it-could-have-been-so-much-worse note. Final thoughts, P.J.?

Grading the grid gimmick

In the first test of the new WSBK grid gimmick (making the top three riders in race one start race two on the third row), the impact was minimal. Rea and Davies were able to move to their accustomed spots in the front without too much delay or drama. The rider who suffered most from starting on the third row was Tom Sykes.

In pre-race interviews shown on TV, the riders all said vaguely positive things about the change. I'm sure some of them were being honest and others were just falling in line in an era when racers are kept on a tight leash.

My opinion is unchanged, and I predict that before the end of the year one of the title contenders will be involved in a first-lap crash that has championship implications because he had to start behind six slower riders. It will change the title fight and possibly get someone hurt — all in the name of "the show."

Marco Melandri
For Marco Melandri, mixed results but promising speed in his return to World Superbike. Ducati photo.
Bonus surprise

Does it also count as a surprise that Marco Melandri was competitively fast after a year off, and at age 34?

Bonus facts

The American Flat Track series opens in Daytona in 16 days, with Harley-Davidson and Indian dream teams riding new bikes. MotoGP starts in 24 days in Qatar. MotoAmerica's season begins in 52 days at the Circuit of the Americas. It looks like it's going to be an interesting year.