Nicolo Bulega secures maiden WorldSBK win at Phillip Island

Nicolo Bulega secures maiden WorldSBK win at Phillip Island

Nicolo Bulega’s WorldSBK debut got off to an exceptional start as he not only set a new lap record at Phillip Island by taking the superpole on Saturday but also won Race 1.

Rookie Nicolo Bulega showed exemplary performance belying his age as he triumphed decisively in his series debut at the 2024 WorldSBK Championship opener at Phillip Island while reigning champions Aruba.It’s Ducati Racing had significantly different outcomes.

After a shaky start, the Italian gritted with determination to battle his way back to the front and took advantage of his pole position to prevail over his rivals in Race 1 around the Australian track.

Bulega became the first rookie to win in his WorldSBK debut after teammate and reigning champion Alvaro Bautista achieved the same feat in 2019. However, Bautista could only score one point in 15th after tumbling on lap four while entangled within the pack, making the race a tale of dramatically contrasting outcomes for the Ducati duo.

Meanwhile, Andrea Locatelli mounted an impressive assault to finish second despite a terrible start as Andrea Iannone turned in a remarkable performance to secure his maiden WorldSBK podium in his first competitive race in over four years.

If Bulega’s impressive performance during pre-season testing raised any questions about his potential to be a true force in WorldSBK this year as his dominant performance on Saturday in Australia will put an end to such worries.

In fact, the Italian has excelled in a single lap far from the media in the lead-up to the race, but it remained to be seen if he could equal his rivals’ seasoned expertise once the racing started.

After achieving half of his goal—getting to pole position with a scorching new lap record—it appeared that the weight of the major event might have caught up to him at the start of the race when he botched his getaway and fell into the grasp of the pursuing group, falling as low as sixth for a brief period on lap one.

Bulega, though, exhibited composure after a shaky few laps as he swiftly recovered and started to close the gap on the lead group—a move that at times reminded us of a certain Bautista in 2023.

However, initially it was a fellow rookie who led the action in the first innings. Iannone, who had been out of the game for several years was able to regain his form and successfully take the lead.

After Iannone’s rejoinder at Turn 2 on lap two, he would set the pace while others battled behind him, although a similarly quick-starting Lowes would force his way through before the end of the first lap.

Lowes remained firm at first against a quick Bautista, who seemed to shake off the effects of a difficult preseason build-up by sprinting from tenth to third by the first turn, just as his rookie teammate went against him.

However, it turned out to be an untimely disaster for Bautista, as Toprak Razgatlioglu, who was on his debut start for BMW, demoted Bautista to fourth. The Spaniard later suffered an abrupt slide as Bulega ironically relegated him to fifth place.

A hasty and aggressive attempt to pass Sam Lowes at Lukey Heights by Bautista left him in eighth place when he was caught off balance as Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Locatelli made their way past. The situation got worse as the Ducati low-siding stage placed Bautista in the back of the pack on lap four after he lost his edge when attempting to re-pass Axel Bassani entering MG.

Now back in the lead, Bulega was making good progress as the former Moto2 rider demonstrated that he was not spooked by Razgatlioglu, overtaking him for third before maintaining his cool against Alex Lowes and eventually moving into second.

He overtook Iannone at Turn 1 to grab the lead, and that momentum would serve him well until the seventh lap. The swift shift in positions happened during the period of mandatory pit stops, which were implemented this weekend to address tyre wear issues in the resurfaced high-speed track.

See also  Dutch WorldSBK: Alvaro Bautista fastest in FP2

Bulega was among the first to pit at the end of lap eight, having already established a lead of nearly a second over Iannone.

Iannone, Lowes, and Razgatlioglu all did the same, but the latter rejoined the track a little too soon, costing him a +1.2-second penalty after the race for his error. The Turk had pulled away from his box early in an effort to hit the minimum pit intervention time by touring more slowly to the pit-exit.

In any case, it made for an annoying chicane for the other three riders, with Lowes appearing to be the most annoyed as he sped the BMW around the outside of the pit-exit, losing ground to Bulega and Iannone ahead of him.

As other riders pulled in later, Bulega, who had done a better job than Iannone warming up his tires, pulled ahead at the end of the pit window on lap 11, just over four seconds ahead of his compatriot.

After a short while, Razgatlioglu made a comeback to take second place, demonstrating that he could accelerate more quickly on fresh rubber over his rivals from Ducati and Kawasaki. Iannone would, however, rally and overcome both to take second place, leaving Razgatlioglu and Lowes to deal with Locatelli’s impending arrival.

With eight laps remaining, Locatelli overtook Razgatlioglu for fourth place. Shortly after, he dispatched Lowes before catching Iannone with seven and six laps remaining.

However, Bulega held his composure in the lead to finish with a sensational victory, as the trailing Pata PROMETEON Yamaha rider’s surge came too late for him to contemplate a challenge for the win.

Bulega’s accomplishments are a great testament to the WorldSSP Championship, from which he graduated, especially considering that in the past few years, riders such as Jonathan Rea, Locatelli, and Dominique Aegerter were not able to make an impression as soon.

Locatelli finished in second place, holding off a late surge from Iannone who capped his comeback with an incredible podium—the first for Team Go Eleven since 2021. Razgatlioglu finished fourth in an odd race where he never seemed at ease on the M 1000 RR, only to drop to fifth after receiving a penalty.

That placed him behind Lowes, the Englishman probably annoyed that the BMW rider hesitated to challenge Iannone for a podium knowing he would forfeit the position. Dominique Aegerter rallied to take sixth place after ruining his second-row grid position with a poor start that could have left him outside the top ten.

Michael van der Mark, who had placed 16th on the grid after his Superpole crash recovered giving BMW a healthy lead in seventh place. Danilo Petrucci started the race as high as sixth but lost ground in the pits, finishing eighth. Meanwhile, Garrett Gerloff moved stealthily through the field to bring three BMWs into the top ten.

If Scott Redding hadn’t received a post-stop penalty, there would have been four BMWs within the top ten as the British rider had experienced a tough weekend due to technical problems and an FP3 crash. He finished tenth overall but fell to eleventh place behind leading Honda rider Xavi Vierge.

Axel Bassani started his debut race with Kawasaki in a dramatic style, finishing in 12th place. The Italian got off to a strong start at MG, placing as high as seventh, but was given a long-lap penalty for helping home favorite Remy Gardner off his Yamaha early in the race.

Lowes lost a lot of time during his pit stops to finish in 13th place. Michael Ruben Rinaldi came in 14th followed by the remounted Bautista in 15th. Meanwhile, Jonathan Rea kept a low profile on the periphery of the top 10 until an error knocked him out of the points for a pitiful 17th place finish.

2024 WorldSBK Phillip Island RACE 1 Results

1Nicolo Bulega🇮🇹Aruba RacingDucati Panigale V4 R20 Laps
2Andrea Locatelli🇮🇹Pata PROMOTEONYamaha R1+2.280
3Andrea Iannone🇮🇹Team Go ElevenDucati Panigale V4 R+2.630
4Alex Lowes🇬🇧Kawasaki Racing TeamKawasaki ZX-10RR+4.728
5Toprak Razgatlioglu🇹🇷ROKiT BMW MotorradBMW M 1000 RR+5.706
6Dominique Aegerter🇨🇭GYTR GRTYamaha R1+8.333
7Michael van der Mark🇳🇱ROKiT BMW MotorradBMW M 1000 RR+8.647
8Danilo Petrucci🇮🇹Barni Spark RacingDucati Panigale V4 R+9.965
9Garrett Gerloff🇺🇲Bonovo Action RacingBMW M 1000 RR+11.699
10Xavi Vierge🇪🇦Team HRCHonda CBR1000RR-R+12.423
11Scott Redding🇬🇧Bonovo Action RacingBMW M 1000 RR+14.413
12Axel Bassani🇮🇹Kawasaki Racing TeamKawasaki ZX-10RR+16.668
13Sam Lowes🇬🇧Elf Marc VDS RacingDucati Panigale V4 R+18.388
14Michael Ruben Rinaldi🇮🇹Motocorsa RacingDucati Panigale V4 R+23.560
15Alvaro Bautista🇪🇦Aruba RacingDucati Panigale V4 R+32.471
16Philipp Oettl🇩🇪GMT 94Yamaha R1+35.580
17Jonathan Rea🇬🇧Pata PROMOTEONYamaha R1+37.949
18Tito Rabat🇪🇦Puccetti RacingKawasaki ZX-10RR+39.427
19Tarran Mackenzie🇬🇧Petronas MIE RacingHonda CBR1000RR-R+54.890
20Adam Norrodin🇲🇾Petronas MIE RacingHonda CBR1000RR-R+57.202
21Bradley Ray🇬🇧MotoxracingYamaha R1+58.642
DNFRemy Gardner🇦🇺GYTR GRTYamaha R1
DNSIker Lecuona🇪🇦Team HRCHonda CBR1000RR-R

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