Sam Lowes makes champion work hard for opening-round World Supersport win
Three-time World Supersport champion Kenan Sofuoglu paid Sam Lowes the highest possible compliment after pipping the Yakhnich Yamaha rider to victory at Phillip Island.
The Turk made the perfect start to his title defence as a deflated Lowes had to settle for second place despite starting on pole and dominating the weekend until race day.
The pair were embroiled in a fascinating scrap for victory, trading places numerous times before Sofuoglu broke away on his MAHI Racing India Kawasaki in the closing stages.
"I told Sam after the race that I have never had to work so hard in my life," said Sofuoglu. "He has been very fast throughout testing and practice, but I found a set-up which worked well for me so thanks to my team.
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"I want to thank Sam as well for making an exciting race. I look forward to racing with him this year."
After scorching to pole position with a gap of more than half a second to Sofuoglu, Lowes dropped to third off the line as World Supersport rookie Michael van der Mark briefly took second.
Lowes quickly got past the Pata Honda rider, who impressively stayed with the front two for much of the 15-lap race.
Lowes had the edge around the tight, twisty sections of Phillip Island, regularly passing his rival halfway around the lap.
However, the superior straight line speed of Sofuoglu's Kawasaki saw him retake the lead down the long start-finish straight.
"All weekend we've had really strong pace," said Lowes.
"But Kenan has been catching up and catching up. I knew he would be there in the race. He's a fantastic rider and a great champion.
"I'm really happy to battle with him and it's going to be an exciting season.
"It didn't quite go my way, but I'm really happy to start the season with second place. Thanks to Yamaha and my team."
Yakhnich manager Claudio Corsetti added: "Sam is working very hard. He dominated during the whole week and tried to win from a three-time world champion.
"Kenan admitted that he has only one rival – Sam Lowes."
The next round takes places at Aragon in Spain on April 14.