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Melandri doubles up at Philip Island season opener

Race One

Marco Melandri has clinched a shock victory at the 2018 World Superbike championship opener for Racing Ducati after reeling in Tom Sykes with defending champion Jonathan Rea fading late on. The former 250cc world champion kept clear of a frantic start to the 2018 curtain raiser to slot into third place behind the two factory Kawasaki riders Sykes and Rea, with pole-sitter Sykes storming into an early lead in the opening laps. But with tyre wear coming into play over the latter stages Melandri reeled in Rea and Sykes, pulling off the race-winning move on Sykes on at turn one on lap 19, and went on to maintain his pace to take a surprise victory.

Melandri, a winner at Phillip Island in his 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP days, records his maiden World Superbike win at the Australia circuit to push his career wins tally to 21 in the series to draw level with fellow countryman Max Biaggi. Sykes claimed a comfortable second place after a late issue saw teammate Rea’s pace drop dramatically which enabled Racing Ducati’s Chaz Davies to jump on to the podium in third place having got the better of Xavi Fores on the Barni Ducati. With Rea down in fifth place it marks the first time since the final race of the 2014 World Superbike season he hasn’t led the riders’ championship.

Behind the front-runners, Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes claimed sixth place ahead of Leon Camier on his Red Bull Honda debut after pulling off a late move on Milwaukee Aprilia’s Eugene Laverty. Michael van der Mark was another to suffer a drastic loss of pace in the closing laps to drop down to ninth place at the finish for Pata Yamaha as Leandro Mercado completed the top ten for Orelec Racing Kawasaki. Loris Baz marked his World Superbike return after three years in MotoGP with 11th place for Althea BMW in front of American Jake Gagne on the Red Bull Honda. World Superbike debutant Toprak Razgatlioglu came home in 13th place for Puccetti Kawasaki as Roman Ramos (Team GoEleven Kawasaki) and Ondrej Jezek (Guandalini Yamaha) rounded out the points places. Jordi Torres and Yonny Hernanandez both crashed out of the 2018 season opener while Lorenzo Savadori missed the race after suffering a fractured left collarbone in a nasty fall during qualifying.

Race Two

Marco Melandri has clinched his first double race victory in World Superbikes since 2014 with a last-lap move on Jonathan Rea to win in the flag-to-flag race two.The Racing Ducati rider and his World Superbike rivals took on a revised race two which was completed with a mandatory pit stop after earlier Pirelli tyres issues, with the majority of the grid carrying out untroubled tyre changes at the mid-race stage. Despite the pack shuffling around during the pit stops Melandri clawed his way towards the front in the closing stages with a similar strategy to race one. Tucking into second place behind triple World Superbike champion Rea on the final lap, Melandri blasted past and in a sprint to the finish line clinched victory by just 0.021s from the Kawasaki rider.

Rea, who had been struggling with illness all race weekend, bounced back from a frustrating opening race when he was hit by late tyre trouble for second place but it marks the first time the Northern Irish rider hasn’t led the World Superbike championship since the Qatar 2014 round. Melandri, taking his first World Superbike double victory since Jerez 2014 with Aprilia, completes the perfect start to the 2018 season with his 22nd career win the series. Barni Ducati’s Xavi Fores looked set to pull off a shock result having led for a number of laps in the closing stages but a late fade saw him miss out in third place but the result equals his best-ever finish in WorldSBK.

Tom Sykes claimed fourth place for Kawasaki to complete a solid start to his 2018 campaign having taken second place in the opener, with Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes stealing fifth place from Red Bull Honda’s Leon Camier at the chequered flag. Michael van der Mark was forced to settle for seventh place for the factory Yamaha squad ahead of MV Agusta’s Jordi Torres as Loris Baz (Althea BMW) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Puccetti Kawasaki) completed the top ten.
It was a nightmare race for factory Ducati’s Chaz Davies having led after the pit stop but dropped out of contention on the first lap after his tyre changes in a low-side crash, while Eugene Laverty (Milwaukee Aprilia) was another faller from the lead in the opening stages.

Roman Ramos claimed 11th place for Team GoEleven Kawasaki ahead of Leandro Mercado (Orelec Kawasaki) with Jake Gagne (Red Bull Honda) and PJ Jacobsen (TripleM Honda) taking points ahead of Laverty.

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