The first race of the 2019 WorldSBK season at Phillip Island culminated in a titanic last lap battle between Pata Yamaha WorldSBK rider, Alex Lowes, and GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK rider, Marco Melandri, for the final podium position. The two riders swapped positions four times on the final lap alone, with Melandri eventually gaining the advantage with a pass at the final corner to claim third and to secure the GRT Yamaha team a first podium finish on their WorldSBK debut. Michael van der Mark declared himself satisfied with fifth position today, having had to contend with rapidly deteriorating grip in the closing stages of the race. Sandro Cortese, making his WorldSBK race debut in Phillip Island, finished in a creditable eighth position to ensure all four Yamahas were inside the top eight.
It was Lowes, starting from the second row of the grid, who made the running for Yamaha in the early stages, with the 28-year-old Briton embroiled in a heated battle for second place with reigning champion Jonathan Rea, Leon Haslam and Toprak Razgatlioglu, as Alvaro Bautista escaped at the front. A crash for Haslam at half race distance left Lowes and Rea alone to contest second place, until the pair were caught by Melandri with just two laps remaining.
Lowes, riding in some pain due to tendonitis in his left wrist, couldn’t hold off the initial challenge from Melandri, but struck back to pass the Italian twice on the final lap. However, it was Melandri who eventually got the better of the battle of the Yamahas, diving up the inside of Lowes on the entry to the final corner to claim third place and the final position on the podium.
Van der Mark adopted a cautious approach for the opening laps, in a bid to conserve his tyres for the latter stages of the race, but the 26-year-old upped his pace to try and stay with Melandri when the Italian passed him for seventh position just before half race distance. The two riders then managed to make up further places by passing first Razgatlioglu and then Sykes, after which van der Mark was forced to let Melandri go and settle for fifth position, having experienced a severe drop off in rear grip.
Cortese also made a cautious start to his first ever WorldSBK race and had dropped back to 11th position as the race approached the halfway point. The reigning Supersport World Champion then upped his pace significantly to progress up the order, eventually crossing the line in eighth position to achieve his goal of a top ten finish on his WorldSBK debut.
The four Yamaha riders will return to action at 12.30 tomorrow, when they will contest the first ever Tissot Superpole Race, a 10-lap sprint to decide the grid for tomorrow’s final 22-lap feature race, which gets underway at 15.00.
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P4
“The guys did a good job with the bike, I had a better pace than I did during the test here, and I enjoyed it today. It’s definitely good to be racing again. There were a few little issues holding me back today and, at the end, I had to dig really deep to try and pass Marco back. I couldn’t have tried any harder than I did, but the grip dropped off a lot in the last four or five laps and I was a bit worried about the tyre not lasting the race, so I tried to be as smooth as I could. It was a shame to miss out on the podium in the final corner of the last lap but, overall, it was a decent start to the season.”
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha WorldSBK – P5
“We knew it was going to be a long race today, and one in which we needed to take care of the tyres quite a lot. I went really careful the first few laps and found a really nice rhythm that didn’t stress the tyres a lot. It was difficult, because you really want to push harder but you can’t if you want to actually finish the race. I saw Marco had good pace when he passed me, so I stayed with him and was hoping to be in the fight for the podium at the end, which didn’t happen. Anyway, we can be happy with fifth and the points today after struggling a bit in the test here and after what was a tricky tactical race.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P3
“This was an amazing race for me because throughout the test and the weekend I was struggling a lot on a new tyre. But from the first few laps of the race I understood that I was feeling much better and even with the new tyre I was losing not so much from the top. I was sure that when the fuel load reduced and the tyre dropped down then I’d feel more comfortable. Once I passed van der Mark my pace was much better and my confidence was increasing every lap. When I arrived behind Alex he slowed a lot, I think he had problems with the rear tyre, and when I passed him he tried to push back and we had a crazy last lap, passing each other four times. I knew I was a bit faster than him in the final corner, but I couldn’t wait for the exit like last year because it was very windy and it was difficult to keep the bike stable, so I changed strategy and went into the corner up the inside and very fast and I think I caught him by surprise. It’s an awesome podium for me, for the team and for Yamaha and I’m so happy, but now we have to continue trying to improve.”
GRT Yamaha Supported WorldSBK – P8
“Overall it’s been a very good day. We had a good Superpole which meant we started from sixth on the grid and the race itself was the best lesson I’ve had since I jumped on the YZF-R1. I learnt a lot, but I missed out on the first few laps otherwise the result could have been better today. The goal was to finish inside the top ten and we did it, so on one side I’m happy to have done my job, but as a rider I’m always happier if the result is better. It was my first ever WorldSBK race, we took points home, and now I can’t wait for the second race tomorrow.”