Namibian Ronald Slamet, now based in Cape Town and defending his second consecutive Mike Hopkins regional title, made the huge step up to world championship level with a wild-card ride on a BWG Kawasaki ZX-10R in the Superstock 1000 Cup, surviving a crash-strewn race to come home 20th out of 22 finishers, after no less than 11 starters had fallen by the wayside.
Rea came out on top at the end of an enthralling last lap that saw him lose the lead only to retake it on the final corner from fellow Briton Davies, as the two finished just 0.051s apart.
Early leader Tom Sykes on the second Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R soon came under intense pressure from championship leader and team-mate Rea, who eventually passed the former champion on lap 14, and Davies, whose pace in the final laps was impressive as he clawed back a small gap to put himself into contention at the finish, relegating Sykes to third.
There was another three-way battle for fourth, with SuperPole winner Leon Haslam getting the better of his factory Aprilia team-mate Jordi Torres, just ahead of Xavier Fores on the second factory Ducati Panigale R machine.
Ducati privateer Nico Terol to within 2.3s of Haslam at the line to claim a well-deserved seventh ahead of similarly-mounted Leandro Mercado, Sylvain Guintoli (Honda) and MV Agusta Reparto Corse’s Leon Camier, who rounded out the top 10.
Davies dominated the second 18-lap race, which was run in much warmer conditions, leading from Turn1 and setting a blistering pace to build up a comfortable lead of 3.1s at the flag.
Rea, suffering from a fever, battled hard throughout the race with former team-mate Haslam, who looked much more at home than he did in their earlier encounter, but it was Rea who held a tenuous advantage when it counted, extending his championship lead to 26 points, with Haslam taking the final place on the rostrum as the pair were split by just half a second at the flag.
Torres took a well-earned fourth position, circulating more or less alone for the latter part of the race, and looking pleased on his return to pit lane, while factory Ducati rookie Fores claimed another solid result on his debut weekend with works team in fifth.
David Salom on the Team Pedercini Kawasaki mounted a superb late charge to pass Mercado, 2014 World Supersport champion Michael van der Mark (Honda), Ayrton Badovini (BMW) and Terol in the final two laps, and come home a hard-earned sixth.
Sykes was running fourth and looked comfortable before high-siding spectacularly on lap five, while reigning champion Sylvain Guintoli (Honda) also fell at the fast Turn 14 on to the start-finish straight.
POINTS AFTER THREE OF 13 ROUNDS
The first European race of the series went to Kawasaki veteran Kenan Sofuoglu after pole-sitter Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta) went out on lap 12 with a technical problem while fighting for the lead - for the second consecutive race.
Cluzel was clearly distraught as he leaned his bike against the pit wall, leaving former champion Sofuoglu to claim his 21st series win - ending a winning drought that had lasted exactly a year - by a comfortable margin of 3.224s, and with it the championship lead.
PJ Jacobsen (Kawasaki) was also in the hunt from the start and finished second, with Honda’s Kyle Smith taking the final podium place.
Gino Rea recovered from a mediocre start to cone home fourth, getting the better of Lorenzo Zanetti on the second works MV Agusta in a photo finish. Alex Baldolini, on a privateer MV Agusta, continued his solid start to the season with 10 points for a hard-earned sixth ahead of compatriot Fabio Menghi (Yamaha R6).
A multiple pile-up on lap six took out Thai race winner Ratthapark Wilairot (Honda), Marco Faccani (Kawasaki) and Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki), each of whom was running in the top eight at the time, all fortunately without injury.
WORLD SUPERSTOCK 1000
The inaugural race of the season for the Superstock 1000 Cup riders was one to remember, decided at the very last corner as a perfectly timed manoeuvre by BMW rider Roberto Tamburini edged out fellow Aprilia-mounted Lorenzo Savadori, who’d led during most of a race-long dice
The leading pair were part of a four-bike pack that pulled away in the early stages, including Kevin Coghlan (Yamaha) and Raffaele De Rosa (Ducati), who finished third and fourth respectively.
With Ondrej Jezek (Ducati) fifth and Bryan Staring (Kawasaki) sixth, there were five different manufacturers represented in the top six. French riders Florian Marino (Yamaha), Romain Lanusse (Kawasaki) and Jeremy Guarnoni (Yamaha), along with Sweden’s Christoffer Bergman (Yamaha) rounded out the top 10.
Two riders crashed out on the warm-up lap, four more failed to finish lap one of the race proper and another two crashed out in the closing stages, to join the two riders whose bikes had picked up mechanical gremlins.
Original source: Kawasaki, Ducati share the WSBK wins