2017 Phillip Island World Superbike Preview

2017 Phillip Island World Superbike Preview | Kawasaki's Jonathan Rea
2017 Phillip Island World Superbike Preview: Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea

The 30th season of the Motul FIM World Superbike Championship gets underway down under Friday at the scenic Phillip Island, a 2.73-mile circuit containing 12 corners in the south of Australia.

Heading into the first of 13 rounds, Kawasaki Racing Team’s Jonathan Rea holds the #1 plate. Since joining Kawasaki for 2015, the 30-year-old Northern Irishman has taken three out of four wins at Phillip Island; the remaining finish was second.

The two-time reigning WSBK Champion also topped the overall time sheets at the Phillip Island SBK test earlier this week aboard the new ZX-10RR, and hopes to carry that momentum into this weekend’s double-header, which remains race one on Saturday and race two on Sunday.

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“I am very excited to be here in Phillip Island, it’s a circuit I really enjoy. My wife was born in the local town and I spend a lot of my off season here, so it’s a track that means a lot to me,” Rea says. “Winter testing has been going quite well, I just hope we can keep working smoothly. I think the beauty of this season is that there are many riders who could win week in week out, so it’s important to do my best every single race and I’m looking forward to starting this weekend.”

2017 Phillip Island World Superbike Preview: Ducati's Chaz Davies
2017 Phillip Island World Superbike Preview: Ducati’s Chaz Davies

Rea’s teammate, the Brit Tom Sykes, finished second overall last season, and struggled to match the pace of his teammate during winter World SBK testing. The 2013 World Superbike Champion holds the overall record for pole positions at Phillip Island, but never scored a win there.

Besides Sykes, the only other rider to truly challenge Rea last season was Aruba.it Racing Ducati’s Chaz Davies, who finished third overall. The Welshman finished the season 53 points behind Rea, and 178 ahead of fourth-place finisher, Honda World Superbike’s Michael van der Mark (riding for Pata Yamaha this year), showing what a huge advantage the top-three riders had throughout 2016 WSBK.

Rea, Sykes and Davies claimed most of the victories; the only other rider that earned a win was Honda World Superbike’s Nicky Hayden, who finished the season fifth overall behind teammate van der Mark.

Davies claimed six wins during the final six races of 2016 World Superbike, but has never won at Phillip Island as he looks to return the title to Ducati. The Bologna-based manufacturer claimed its last World Superbike title in 2011 with Carlos Checa at the controls of the 1198R. Ducati still holds the record for most titles with 15; the closest manufacturer is Honda with six.

2017 Phillip Island World Superbike Preview: Honda's Nicky Hayden
2017 Phillip Island World Superbike Preview: Honda’s Nicky Hayden

For 2017, the sole American in World SBK, Hayden, is joined by Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl. The German did well in testing, but will need some time to adapt to the new CBR1000RR SP2. Hayden, the 2006 MotoGP Champion, will look to better his usual top-10 finishes that he had throughout his debut year in the series.

Hayden’s former teammate van der Mark joins Alex Lowes on the Pata Yamaha team; both will seek top finishes aboard the YZF-R1 at Phillip Island.

The other Italian manufacturers—MV Agusta and Aprilia—have strong lineups as SBK heads to the season opener. Piloting the lone MV Agusta Reparto Corse F4 is Leon Camier; the Milwuakee Aprilia RSV4 superbikes will be piloted by Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori, who impressed during his rookie SBK season last year, finishing 10th overall on the Aprilia.

The 21-rider grid up starts practice Friday ahead of Saturday’s Superpole qualifying sessions and race 1.