The man with the target on his back is reigning world champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team), who has won five out of the last six races around Phillip Island. Already impressing with his pace throughout the two day Official test in Australia, it is difficult to look past Rea as a podium finisher this weekend. Despite suffering from three crashes over the two days, he heads into the first round of the season working through all of testing regime and ready for the battle. British team-mate Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) could be the dark horse this season, as he prepares for his ninth season with the Provec squad. Heading into 2018 with a clear mind and determined attitude, he explains he feels stronger than last season and had some strong pre-season tests on the green machine. Never winning around the circuit, Sykes was on pole in 2016 and has only taken three podiums here – but with a strong two days at the Official test you would be a fool to rule him out.
Over in the red corner, Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) has been spending his winter nursing an injury sustained in the Jerez test back in November. Struggling slightly with the set up of his Panigale R throughout the winter, the newly wed is hoping to find some magic ahead of the weekend. Finishing on the podium on half of his appearances around the 4.4km circuit, Davies is yet to win despite being involved in some sensational battles – most notably the one to the line last season. Whilst Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) had a stronger official test to start the week, and with positive memories of the circuit with victories in 125cc and 250cc World Championships, he will np doubt go into the race with a positive outlook. Making his return to the series here last season in which he took a podium finish, he clearly has the pace and a positive outlook should help ahead of the weekend.
With podium finishes to his name in both WorldSSP and WorldSBK, Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) has been building a strong pace with his YZF-R1 throughout the two day test, with a good pace the first and final sectors of the track. One of seven circuits he has taken a WorldSBK podium around, he will be hoping to make a big impact for the start of 2018. Whilst Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) is working to continue with the podium pace he acquired last season, and despite being locked in a stunning top three battle last season, he is yet to take home a trophy from Australia.
An all new line up welcomes all new challenges for the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team, as Leon Camier and Jake Gagne will prepare to battle on the Fireblade CBR1000RR SP2 machines. Impressing with a strong pre-season pace so far since first swinging his leg over the bike, Camier may not be confident of having the race pace yet, but he is showing positive signs on the machine. Taking a best result of fifth position around the circuit, the British rider will have a challenging weekend ahead whilst team-mate Gagne will be hoping to make a solid and steady start to his first full time WorldSBK appearance.
Returning to the WorldSBK paddock for the first time since 2014, Loris Baz (GULF Althea BMW Racing Team) is ready for a challenging but enjoyable season. Starting to understand the German machine, he had a strong two day test in Australia and will be eager to quickly adjust to the Pirelli tyres and be fighting for some strong positions. Positive memories from 2014 will surely follow the 25 year old, after he secured a podium with Kawasaki Down Under.
After a difficult two day test, Jordi Torres (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) will be wanting to put the opening day behind him which saw the Spanish rider crash at 190kph, he will continue to work with his new team as they try to develop the Italian machine. Taking a fourth position here back in 2015, Torres has plenty of experience Down Under to help his adjust to his new machine.
With all the action set to kick off in under two days, anticipation fills the air as the 2018 season is set to get underway and all can be followed on the WorldSBK Video Pass, so you can’t miss a minute.