Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes extended his WrldSBK winning run to nine consecutive races at Donington Park with victory in the opening race of the weekend after passing team-mate and championship leader Jonathan Rea with six laps left to run and then pulling an immediate gap.
Rea looked like he was in trouble with his rear tyre as Sykes gapped him by 1.5s in the space of a lap and then Rea crashed for the first time in a race this year, going down unhurt at Craner Curves with three laps left which gave Sykes a 16s lead over wildcard Leon Haslam in second place and Alex Lowes another three seconds in arrears.
Rea’s crash will be music to the ears of title rival Chaz Davies. The Aruba Ducati man fell out of the lead with 16 laps left to run and must have been thinking his title hopes were all but dashed but he re-mounted to finish in eighth place with Pata Yamaha’s Lowes coming from dead last on the first lap to pinch the final podium spot as Marco Melandri ran on to the grass as he exited Melbourne.
Davies, Sykes, Rea and Haslam had made the initial running after a lunge into Redgate from the Derby man saw him nudge Eugene Laverty which pushed the Milwaukee Aprilia man across the track and into Lowes, who came back on at the back of the field.
Rea rode past Sykes on the inside at Craner to take second but the Huddersfield man tried to go back past at McLeans but ran wide, which allowed Haslam to go under him on the exit and grab third place. Sykes took his time re-passing the Puccetti Kawasaki man but nipped past after two laps as Melandri ran wide at the Old Hairpin, coming back into the pack in seventh from fourth.
Davies, meanwhile, had pulled a near one-second gap on Rea after five laps but then hit the bump in the middle of Goddards and went down, handing Rea a 1.3s lead over Sykes as Melandri came back through to pass Tati Mercado for fourth place while Lowes moved into the top 15.
Sykes, who said his bike was not working well in the windy conditions, pulled back the gap in very short order as Rea began to run into tyre trouble - both Kawasakis chose the same options front and rear. Sykes put his first move on Rea at Melbourne but then ran wide into Goddards and the Isle of Man resident went back past.
It was clear from then that Sykes was considerably faster and that was demonstrated when Sykes passed and gapped the reigning world champion with ease. Rea then went down and immediately went to check his rear Pirelli as Haslam secured second place.
Lowes showed supreme pace to climb into fourth and see the back wheel of Melandri and the Italian’s mistake saw him able to sneak through for third and his first podium since 2015. Team-mate Michael Van Der Mark took fifth with Leon Camier in sixth place.
Mercado slipped back to seventh with Davies eventually finishing in eighth place. Jordi Torres and Xavi Fores completed the top ten. Stefan Bradl and Jake Dixton both retired.