Triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea is still the hottest bet possible to win a fourth consecutive championship this season, but the rider himself knows his final pre-season preparations may have gone very differently just a few days before the start of a new season.
Fastest of all after two days of official testing, after more good work in the pits from man and team, Rea was lucky to walk away from a big crash on the first day at Phillip Island. “I got caught out in a big crash at T11 and I was very fortunate to walk away from that one, but I gave my guys a lot of work and they were working until midnight,” said Rea on the second day of the tests.
“Then I had a small step off at MG, but nothing too serious. I am starting to feel good with the bike again today. Yesterday it was difficult on the track as I was trying to force things a little bit, but today I have been riding much more natural. Fabien Foret has been helping me with that a lot, so it was a huge team effort these two days.”
With 1000rpm less at the top of his power band in 2018, by FIM And Dorna regulation, Rea, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and his team have already made positive corrections, of a kind. “The balance of the bike is very good,” said Rea. “It is always nice to have that extra RPM, and the gearing is not perfect compared to last year, but the lap time seems good. With the wind coming in one direction and strong in these last two days, it just takes the wind to change 180 to put the set-up out of the window. With a tailwind on the straight it is completely different.
“Right now turn one, two and three is very good, easy to turn the bike, but if the wind changes it creates a different story. So we just need to keep our options open. To be honest I was really happy to do a real race simulation so with that information I am better equipped to change the bike a little bit more for the race, if things cropped up where I thought I could be stronger. A good learning day on the final day of the tests.”
Rea, like all the others tested the larger profile new Pirelli race option at the rear, but unlike some others, he looks keen to opt for an existing option. “To be honest I prefer the small one,” said Rea. “All the information we had is that I was the only guy that wanted to use the small one. For me the small one is better.”