I’ve said it many times since round one but World Superbikes are back in 2018 and their next stop is the Far East, more specifically the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. It will be the fourth season that the circuit has hosted a WSBK event, with all six races being won by a Kawasaki rider. However, it is not a Kawasaki rider who leads the series coming into Thailand; Marco Melandri has the honour of heading the field and the possibility of extending his series advantage.
Marco Melandri surprised everyone with a sensational double victory in Australia, as he leads the championship by 17 points after just two races. The Italian will be looking to make it three wins on the bounce, something he last achieved in 2012 in race two at Aragon and in both races at Brno. The last Italian to win four races on the bounce was Max Biaggi, who did the double at Salt Lake City and Misano in 2010. It is early days but Melandri looks like he could be in with a shout in 2018. He’s only been to Buriram once, with a fourth and a third last season. Surely, he can be a winning possibility again?
Surprisingly, second in the championship is not reigning triple champion Jonathan Rea but his Huddersfield teammate and 2013 WSBK champ, Tom Sykes. ‘Sykesy’ admittedly doesn’t like Phillip Island, so for him to come away with a second and a fourth was overwhelmingly brilliant and shows signs that he may be the one to watch in 2018. The 32-year-old is the only rider to have beaten Rea in Buriram, in race two in 2016. He will look to do it again in
2018, although the Destination of Speed hasn’t been his favourite circuit.
Jonny Rea announced after the Australian round that he was suffering from a hand injury, of which he underwent a successful surgery to help fix it. The Ulsterman put in a great display in race two Down Under but was conquered by Melandri. Chang is Rea-territory, never lower than second and five wins make this his fortress but he may not be the favourite once track-side. 2018 is already guaranteed to be Rea’s worst start to a year since he joined Kawasaki and if he failed to win at all this weekend, it would be the first time Rea has not won a race in both opening rounds since 2014. Can Rea fight back?
Xavi Fores was right up the sharp end at Phillip Island, getting his first podium of the season in race two with a third place. The Barni Racing Ducati rider will look to build on that in Thailand, seeking to become the first Spaniard since Carlos Checa in 2012 to achieve back-to-back podium finishes. It’ll be a tough ask, having finished no higher than 8th in Thailand, last year in race two – his only top 10 at the circuit. However, if anyone can cause an upset then surely, Fores could be the one?
Alex Lowes left Phillip Island with a 6th and a fifth in race one and two respectively. Whilst some may consider these good results, one may have expected a bit more from the Factory Pata Yamaha outfit. The 2013 BSB champion has had a podium at the Chang International Circuit, with a third place back in 2015, on a Suzuki. In five out of the six races the Lincolnshireman has finished at Chang, he has never been lower than seventh and achieved a high of fourth last year. Can he give Yamaha their first podium in Thailand?
The revelation of the Phillip Island race weekend was 2009 British Superbike champion and Red Bull Honda rider, Leon Camier. The Brit was right in the thick of the action, as he battled hard to drag his Honda home in seventh during race one and sixth during the second outing. Camier is still developing both the bike and his style around the bike but the 31-year-old hasn’t got a bad record in Thailand, nor a sparkling one. Three retirements from six races at the circuit have left Camier with a best result of eighth, which came last season. The late Nicky Hayden put the bike in the top 10 in both races last season and Camier will be looking to do the bare minimum in 2018.
Other riders to watch out for are Chaz Davies, who was off the pace massively at Phillip Island after a big crash in pre-season. Michael van der Mark was a pole-man at the circuit in 2016 and will look to repeat that achievement this season. The Althea BMW have been no lower than fifth in at least one race at the Chang International Circuit since 2016 so the pressure will be on Loris Baz to repeat that, whereas Leandro Mercado will look to consolidate his top 10 place in the standings. Both Aprilia will also hope to improve and break into the top 10, as will Spaniard Jordi Torres.
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