From Troy Bayliss' return to Michael van der Mark's eye-catching debut, looks back at a few talking points from the opening World Superbike weekend of 2015.

New rules showing potential
To use Tom Sykes' words, Phillip Island has a habit of throwing up a few 'flash in the pans'. So it's important then not to start singing the praises of the series' new format just yet. After all, the opening round hasn't been the greatest gauge of a season's overall narrative in the past. What we did see at the weekend, however, was as hotly a contested podium battle as there has been in Australia since 2010 - and between three different manufacturers to boot.

With Honda showing pace around a track at which they normally struggle was encouraging. Had their respective issues not hamstrung Suzuki's Alex Lowes and Randy de Puniet we may have been looking at five different manufacturers inside the top six. And that's before we mention the progress of both MV Agusta and EBR, whose results marked a sizeable improvement on their 2014 bows.

Let's not get too carried away, though. The top ten were covered by an average of 29.5secs in both races. Only once in the past five years has the gap been higher. It was a wonderful start but the new rules' success can only be measured further down the line.

Rea proves championship pedigree
After facing a winter's worth of questions over his 'friendly' rivalry with new team-mate Tom Sykes at Kawasaki, Jonathan Rea opted to focus his attentions on achieving a solid start at Phillip Island, a track at which neither he nor his ZX10-R have excelled in the past.

He quickly showed that his pre-season record of placing inside the top-three at each official test was far from showboating by claiming pole and edging a finely poised race one. His smile after missing out on an opening-day double by 0.01secs in the second showed he had exceeded his team's expectations.

What particularly impressed, however, was the aggression shown on the last lap of both contests, his rapid inside move on Haslam at Lukey Heights in race two arguably the overtake of the day. "At least when he showed me a wheel I had some fight for him," he said just after. With Sykes failing to make the podium at one of his bogey tracks, Rea showed the pre-season talk of a championship challenge was far from premature.

Aprilia still the bike to beat
Aprilia's World Superbike involvement was clouded in uncertainty up until the end of January. Head of development Romano Albesiano admitted as much, saying the factory was unsure of how to divide resources between MotoGP and the road-based series. Noale engineers were unimpressed with rule changes that introduced stock con-rods and pistons and banned changing gear ratios during race weekends, leading many to question the 2015 RSV4's potential.

What a turnaround it was then to see lead rider Leon Haslam leaving the first round as joint championship leader. His speed around Phillip Island was of little surprise considering he notched up his first win and pole position in the class at the opening round in 2010.

However, Jordi Torres' rapid adaption really underlines the bike's usability and pedigree. It's hard to see Haslam not consistently causing the Kawasakis of Rea and Sykes problems throughout the year, while Torres could be a surprise podium contender at tracks he knows well.

Van der Mark is the real deal
Just what were Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam thinking during Michael van der Mark's five lap stint at the front of race two? Honda's CBR100RR, the winning pair's old bike, had a less-than-inspiring record in Australia before 2015 and pre-season talk suggested the class rookie would need some time to adapt.

Yet a second row start and fifth place in race one exceeded everyone's expectations. While watching the 22-year old confidently sweep into the lead in race two, it was easy to understand why Kevin Schwantz advised Suzuki to sign the Dutchman up after they shared track time at the '14 Suzuka 8-Hour. Arguably the most exciting class debut since Marco Simoncelli at Imola in 2009, van der Mark could be on course for a debut podium well ahead of schedule.

Reasons for optimism at Suzuki
It's clear just how team boss Paul Denning saw Crescent Suzuki's opening weekend of 2015. "...the most disappointing I've ever known," he tweeted late on Sunday night. Sure, Lowes and de Puniet scored just 16 points between them five days after the Englishman topped the official two-day test.

Lowes had spoken of curbing the erratic streak that saw him DNF eight times in 2014 prior to his trip to the southern hemisphere. His subsequent problems in warm up then both races must have been hugely frustrating, though he still brought it home for a solid top-ten finish when his frustration could have got the better of him. Would the Lowes of twelve months ago have done the same?

Likewise, de Puniet's testing injuries were compounded by arm pump issues and a mid-race collision with Camier in race one. Yet he salvaged a battling seventh in the second, demonstrating the necessary mettle to succeed. With Suzuki only introducing their new electronics at round three in Aragon there is still much to look forward to for Denning and co in 2015.

BMW in trouble
Testing times on Tuesday were a sobering sight for BMW engineers. Sylvain Barrier was the eighth fastest of the eight manufacturers entered in this year's series. 'Logistical issues' that forced JR Motorsport's Toni Elias and Ayrton Badovini out of the opening round - and yet to turn a wheel - clearly hasn't helped its cause and Barrier's Motorrad Italia team isn't receiving direct factory support.

However, surely the double European Superstock champion would have expected to be closer than 44 seconds to the winner in race one. Boasting a bigger bore engine after the introduction of the new regulations, the S1000R, on paper at least, should find itself closer to the front

In reality Barrier only tested a new electronics package for the first time at the start of the official test. JR Racing's duo can't come back soon enough, although doubts remain over their current relationship with BMW and the reasons for its absence. It could be a long year ahead for Barrier and his Italia Motorrad team.

Bayliss can still cut it
It isn't every day that the second most decorated rider in World Superbike history announces his comeback after more than seven years in retirement just two days before the event. Although the results might not suggest as much, Troy Bayliss proved he wasn't racing at home to make up the numbers with some impressive pace in Sunday's races.

The 52-time race winner currently holds the 250 and 450 Australian dirt track titles but cutting it at 45-years of age - especially with no prior testing - still takes some doing. And there he was, closing in on the leaders in race two while lapping faster than his free practice and qualifying times before a blistered rear tyre forced him to pit.

The dream comeback didn't get the dream result it merited but Bayliss proved that with more time on a Superbike he could still be a force to be reckoned with. Michele Pirro and Xavi Fores are favourites to deputise for the injured Davide Giugliano in Thailand in March but Ducati bosses could make race fans happy the world over by giving Bayliss another shot.

MV development ahead of schedule
Throughout the winter Leon Camier was adamant that 2015 was very much a development year for himself and MV Agusta. The 28-year old signed a two-year deal with the factory in November and Camier reiterated that he and his small band of Italians would go through some difficult weekends with the F4 before the radial valve F4 could regularly challenge for top six's.

Come Australia, however, and Camier showed his development capabilities. Having pressed the reset button during the bike's shakedown test in November, the team have taken the electronic mapping in a totally different direction from last year. Two top tens in Australia suggest this is very much the right direction. As their results in World Supersport suggest, the MV factory isn't here to make up the numbers.

The Spanish are coming!
Not content with ruling the current grand prix roost - Sandro Cortese is the only non-Spanish rider to prevail in the three world championships since 2012 - a raft of talented Iberians have migrated across to try their hand at World Superbike racing in 2015.

Grand Prix winners Torres and Nico Terol were joined by ex-national Moto2 champ Roman Ramos and Santi Barrag?n, himself a CEV veteran, bringing the total number of Spaniards in the class up to six - equal to the number of British entries.

Torres was the obvious Australian standout. Equally impressive, however, was Terol who leaves Australia sixth in the overall standings after a solid start. Kudos too to Ramos who secured a top ten finish at the second time of asking on a Superbike after only limited testing.

With these class rookies gaining more experience and the return of the injured David Salom and Toni Elias likely to bolster the Iberian ranks, the current British monopoly of the podium may not be as secure.



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