Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Rea made the perfect start to the defence of his World Superbike title after claiming a hard-earned victory in race one at Phillip Island in Australia.
Rea, who smashed the pole record to head up the grid, dug deep on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR to keep Aruba.it Ducati’s Chaz Davies at bay by only 0.042s at the finish.
The Ulster rider managed to make a break with around five laps remaining in a race that saw several different leaders, with Rea’s team-mate Tom Sykes, Davies, Marco Melandri (Aruba.it Ducati) and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha) all taking turns at the front.
Two-time champion Rea, though, began to turn up the wick in the closing stages, with only Welshman Davies able to mount a challenge.
Davies attempted to make a pass at the beginning of the final lap but Rea held firm, prevailing in the dash to the line to start 2017 with a maximum haul of 25 points.
Sykes completed the top three, just over a second behind race winner Rea, with Lowes hot on his feels in fourth place on the Pata Yamaha.
Leon Camier (MV Agusta) and Xavi Fores (Barni Ducati) rounded out the top six, while Toome’s Eugene Laverty was eighth on the Milwaukee Aprilia on his return to the class, finishing behind Althea BMW’s Jordi Torres.
Under the revised grid rules introduced this season, Lowes will start race two (0400 GMT) on Sunday on pole, with Rea joined on row three by Sykes and Davies.