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- Marco Melandri leads a dominant Aprilia 1-2 in Malaysia after avoiding first corner carnage
- Aprilia rider beats Guintoli after Baz wipes out team-mate Sykes and Lowes
- Eugene Laverty returns to the WSBK podium
Marco Melandri has taken his first World Superbike Championship win as an Aprilia rider, the Italian leading an Aprilia 1-2 at Sepang in an otherwise disastrous race for Kawasaki and Tom Sykes.
A clinical performance by the Italian, Melandri fought his way back into contention from a relatively poor start, catching and passing team-mate Sylvain Guintoli for the lead on lap ten and doing just enough to keep him at bay to the chequered flag.
A superb race for Aprilia on a weekend they have mostly dominated, by contrast it was a terrible start to the day for Kawasaki riders Sykes and Baz – 1-2 overall coming into the race – after they, together with Alex Lowes, were eliminated in a dramatic first corner tangle.
With pole man Guintoli getting the hole-shot on the run to the opening bend, things were considerably tighter behind as the field funnelled into the tricky right-left hander.
Carnage was to subsequently follow with Baz clipping the rear of his championship leading team-mate, sending the latter into the path of Alex Lowes on his outside and eliminating all three from the race. A costly DNF for Sykes in rather controversial circumstances, the defending champion was nonetheless lucky to avoid being seriously hurt after getting his leg caught in the mechanics of Lowes's Suzuki too as they came down.
With all three forced out of the race – and Jonathan Rea heavily delayed too -, it was Guintoli who enjoyed a good lead after the first lap, ahead of Toni Elias, Chaz Davies, Melandri and Eugene Laverty, the quintet having successfully avoided the drama unfolding around them.
Having dominated free practice and qualifying, it seemed at this stage that Guintoli would be difficult to match, but it wouldn't take long for Melandri to establish himself as a worthy adversary, the Italian getting up to second by lap three and going off in pursuit of his team-mate.
Catching Guintoli by lap five, Melandri would circulate behind the Frenchman before capitalising on an error around the final turn on lap ten to nose in front for the first time.
From here, Guintoli would turn chaser, but while he would stay in touch with Melandri as they headed into the final lap, he ultimately didn't have enough pace to regain the lead.
It meant Melandri was left to claim his first WSBK win on the RSV4, his first WSBK success since the Moscow Raceway last season and one that comes amid speculation of increasing pressure from Aprilia bosses to start delivering race wins.
Despite missing out on the win, second place sees Guintoli make significant in-roads into the WSBK title fight in light of Sykes and Baz's DNF, the former MotoGP rider now 17 points behind the overall lead.
Taking full advantage of the carnage going on around him, Laverty put in an impressive performance on the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki to work his way up to third place, the Irishman securing a much-needed first podium since his win at Phillip Island.
In a battle that would go down to the final corner, Chaz Davies would prevail over Elias for fourth place, while Rea put in an excellent recovery ride to sixth place to raise him to second in the standings once more, 16 points off the lead.
PATA Honda team-mate Leon Haslam crossed the line seventh after winning a race-long battle with Davide Giugliano, the front row sitter never really recovering from a terrible start that left him outside the top ten initially.
With three leading riders out of the race, David Salom claimed more EVO honours with a run to ninth overall, the Spaniard securing another valuable class win in a race that saw his closest rival, Niccolo Canepa, suffer a technical retirement.
Leon Camier rounded out the top ten on the BMW Italia, ahead of Jeremy Guarnoni and Alessandro Andreozzi, while Bryan Staring, Imre Toth and Romain Lanusse notched up their first points of the 2014 WSBK season in 13th, 14th and 15th respectively.