Lowes and Yamaha fight for the win in Phillip Island Race One Thriller
In a thrilling first FIM Superbike World Championship race at Phillip Island in Australia, Alex Lowes secured a spirited fourth place and his new team-mate Michael van der Mark ninth, earning good points and setting themselves up well for the second race of the weekend on Sunday 26th.
After qualifying fifth on the grid in Superpole in a time better than the circuits previous outright fastest lap - Alex Lowes used his 2017 Yamaha YZF-R1 to good effect in race one, fighting in the leading group throughout and crossing the line in a photo-finish for third place, only three-hundreths of a second from former World Champion Tom Sykes.
More impressively, Lowes was also only 1.082 seconds from the winner after 22-laps of sometimes close and furious action, leading the whole field on lap 11 as he tried to up the pace and break up what was a combative leading group of riders. Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team rider Michael van der Mark scored ninth place in his first WorldSBK race on the YZF-R1, and was a respectably close 12 seconds from the win itself, after starting from tenth on the grid. He had to qualify out of Superpole 1 and into Superpole 2 earlier in the day, but did so in professional style.
Van der Mark also battled in a group of riders for the whole race, missing out on 8th place by only 0.05 of a second, and the experience gained about his new machine during his first race on the YZF-R1 will be used to find improvements for tomorrows Race Two.
Under the new championship rules, Lowes fourth place puts him on pole for Sundays 22-lap contest, a position he hopes to exploit to the full in the early laps. Michael will be sixth off the grid on Sunday because of his top nine finishing position today. Todays podium riders will now start race two from the third row, again because of the new regulations.
Paul Denning - Team Principal
Both for us at Pata Yamaha and for the World Superbike Championship as a whole, today was an exciting way to start the season! We have been so impressed by Alexs approach to the winter tests and to this first race event, and today showed the result of very serious preparation and a lot of hard work. As a rider, Alex has made a big step forward and this has allowed him to use the improvements in the bike, the team and the technical support structure. Lets see what we can do tomorrow from pole position! Whatever the result, the target is to maximise the potential of the package and keep building forward, and today has been a great start to that process.
Michael made a brilliant start, rode aggressively and fought hard for every single lap of the race. The Championship has huge strength in depth this year and this was shown today, if you are a small percentage away from the optimum it will be tough to finish at the front. Michaels adaptation to the Yamaha package continues, and this 22 laps will be very valuable experience we will try to help him to take a step forward for tomorrows race and we know that very soon we will see him fighting at the front.
Michael van der Mark
In Superpole 1 we made a big step forward with the bike and the lap times came quite easy. We made good progress and in Superpole 2 it was the first time, really, with a qualifying tyre for me on this bike. The lap was not perfect but I was happy to be in Superpole 2. The race was quite good and in the beginning I was with the front guys but I felt that I struggled with drive. I wanted to be smooth to save the tyre but there was not enough drive from the rear, which is why I struggled to stay with them. I had a couple of nice fights with the other guys but I was just not comfortable enough to do the same as the guys in front. Tomorrow I hope we can find a solution to find more drive. Now I have had a real race on the bike I can see the real issues, and what the real strong points of the other riders are. I hope we can close up to them tomorrow, I will be giving 100%!
I felt quite comfortable today and the race simulations that I have done allowed me to relax a bit more in the race itself. I had been on a decent pace in the race runs and knew what to expect from the tyres and the bike. I managed to keep my speed to the end and I was a bit surprised that they were messing around a bit at the front! At one stage there were too many guys in the front group and everyone was a bit close - I did not feel very comfortable with that so I tried to push on a bit and stretch it out. It worked out quite well for me. The lads in the team and all at Yamaha have done a great job with the bike. Unfortunately I made a bit of mistake near the end and it dropped me back from the first three, I was able to pull them back in the last three laps but fourth place is still good. It is easy after the race to say that I could have done a bit better but my goal was top five in the races here, and then build during the year to close the gap. But we were in the race for the podium, and I just enjoyed being able to fight with the guys.