FORMER teammates Leon Haslam and Jonathan Rea share the points lead after splitting the honours in a thrilling opening round of the world Superbike championship at Phillip Island.
The British pair secured a win and a second placing each, with Kawasaki rider Rea triumphing in race one and Aprilia’s Haslam turning the tables by just 0.010 of a second in the second race. The duo were teammates at Honda before going their separate ways this season.
Rea is married to a local, so his first win for Kawasaki came on what is almost his home track.
“I knew how I could do a good job and do the team proud,” Rea said.
“Race one was particularly tough. I was thinking it would be like a bicycle race with different people doing some work at the front but no one seemed to put their nose in the wind too much. “I had to consciously look after my tyre and go as slow as I could and stay at the front … The last lap when Leon came past I was lucky to have enough rubber to fight with him.”
Making a cameo comeback from retirement, 45-year-old Australian great Troy Bayliss (Ducati) was competitive but had to settle for 13th in race one and 16th in race two.
The three-time world champion was doggedly clinging to the back of the leading group in race two before his tyres started playing up, forcing him into the pits for a fresh set.
“It’s been a strange one to come back after so many years,” Bayliss said.
“I did this comeback for a lot of reasons, and in the end I made some really good progress.
“I was basically depressed for two years (after retirement) … but now, after today, I know I can still be fast.”
Rea won the opening victory of the season after a 22-lap battle with Aprilia pair Haslam and competition new boy Jordi Torres and Chaz Davies (Ducati), who grabbed third place.
In race two, Rea led onto Gardner Straight for the last time but Haslam was able to nudge his machine in front just metres from the line to notch his first victory in five years, while Davies again followed his British compatriots home in third place.
“The biggest thing is I am so happy with the bike and the team,” Haslam said.
“Even if we had finished third or fourth I’m so happy with what we are doing with the bike, the progression, and I think there is so much more still to come.”