Rea beat Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati) by just 0.042s across the line as the pair battled hard to the last corner, with Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) also on the podium.
An enthralling race was the perfect way to start the 30th season of the WorldSBK championship, with Rea, Davies, Sykes, Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) and Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati) all taking turns in the lead.
Lowes briefly led mid-race and would eventually finish fourth, crossing the line just over a second behind Rea and just 0.032s behind Sykes.
Melandri made a spectacular return to the championship in his first WorldSBK race since 2014, taking the lead off the line and running at the front for several laps only for his day to end in frustration after a crash at the Southern Loop with 8 laps to go.
An excellent showing from Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) saw the Englishman cross the line three seconds behind race winner Rea to complete an all British top five.
A solid start to the season by Spaniards Xavi Fores (BARNI Racing Team) and Jordi Torres (Althea BMW Racing Team) saw them take sixth and seventh respectively.
Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia), Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team) and Randy Krummenacher (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) completed the top ten, with Krummenacher producing an impressive ride on his WorldSBK debut.
Nicky Hayden (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team) and Markus Reiterberger (Althea BMW Racing Team) were 11th and 12th respectively, whilst debutant Stefan Bradl (Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team) was 15th. Lorenzo Savadori (Milwaukee Aprilia) crashed at Turn 6 with 17 laps to go, dashing the hopes of the Italian of a good point-scoring start to the year.
With the new grid format introduced for 2017, we will see Alex Lowes start from pole position whilst Jonathan Rea will be battling from ninth. Race 2 at 3pm local time (+11 GMT) on Sunday at the Yamaha Finance Australian Round will see Rea looking to make it a double victory weekend, but his rivals will be pushing him hard at every turn.
1. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team):
"To start the season with 25 points is exactly what I needed to do, especially after the end of last season played out and hopefully we can work step by step. It was a strange race, it should have been much faster. But we did what we had to do in the end to get 25 points.”
2. Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati):
“It was important to get this first race out the way and get some good points on the board. I tried a bit of a different strategy and it didn’t quite work out for the win. In the end I knew it was going to come down to myself and Jonny; but with this being one of our tougher tracks it’s hard to get the strategy right. We’ll have a little think for tonight and see if we can go one better tomorrow.”
3. Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team):
“I have to say to finish on the podium, not far behind those two in Phillip Island is a big positive for me. That’s only the third podium I’ve had in this circuit, so it gives me a lot of confidence going forward. I had a couple of warnings very early on and I was able to settle down, but ultimately I did an acceptable race. A podium at Phillip Island is my first target and I hope we can improve on it tomorrow.”
#AUSWorldSBK at Phillip Island: Race 1
1. Jonathan Rea Kawasaki
2. Chaz Davies Ducati +0.042
3. Tom Sykes Kawasaki +1.050