Jonathan Rea and his Kawasaki team didn’t know what had hit them in the early rounds of 2019. But now – thanks to some own goals from Ducati – the reigning champion has not just caught long-time leader Alvaro Bautista but surpassed him by nine points after one wet race at Donington.
Rea won race one in an astounding fashion, nearly three seconds ahead after just one lap and then a comfortable 11 seconds up at the flag after 23 tense laps as Bautista crashed out for the third race weekend in succession.
“I missed my pit board on my first lap, so I did not see the gap, but on the second lap I saw that I had quite a big gap already,” Rea told bikesportnews.com. “I have been riding this bike for quite a few years now, and although we do not get to ride in the wet a lot, the wet setup is pretty good.
“Even in the change of conditions – completely wet, half wet or a drying track – it seems to be a bike that you can extract a lot of stability out of. So you can stop it well and then it is all about using your body weight to get through the corners.”
Rea knew a calculated early gamble might pay off big time, especially with Superpole winner Sykes behind at what is his favourite circuit.
“I knew if I could arrive at the limit of the package quite early I could take a gamble while the rest of the other guys got up to speed,” said Rea. “Without taking too much risk it was quite easy to do that. Then I found myself on the same rhythm as Tom and I could see my pit board was very consistent.
“At the end of the race I thought I should keep pushing, keep pushing on as I knew if there was a lapse of concentration it would be very easy for something to go wrong in these conditions. So I kept going right until the last lap and got it done. But it felt like a really long race! When I started to think about how many laps were left, I looked at the pit board it said 13 to go – I felt that it was almost the end of the race.”
Rea did not feel that he took any undue risks in the early laps, as his rivals found their wet weather feet.
“I do not feel I was pushing at the start. It just seems like the trend of the championship and how I look at it, without pumping up my own tyres, I find the limit very fast in those wet conditions. I do not improve so much more.
“It seems that the other riders… it just takes them a few more laps to get in, but they can arrive at my pace. But by that stage I have a gap and that is how it has been in the last years.
“But of course, you have to really talk to your bike and I understand my bike pretty well in those conditions. I have had it in the past where I have had ten seconds on the board and I went down, at Magny-Cours in 2012 or 13. I did not want that to happen. It was a long race because sometimes when you have a big gap you think it is easy but inside it is a lot more pressure.”
Rea could not help but have a reaction to seeing the Bautista out pit board, even if he already had a 50/50 chance of it being Bautista who was out, not his team-mate Chaz Davies. “I saw the bike, I caught that it was one of the Aruba bikes, but I did not catch the number when I went past. But when I saw my pitboard… yip.
“I am sure if you look at the chronos my lap time the following lap was much slower because I was kind of like whoa! what’s going on? I knew that Tom has one or two tenths over two laps, and I felt that I did not want to give him too much more food to chase me down. I was already on my rhythm. If you have somebody pushing you that little bit more it is a knife-edge – you go down. I just composed myself after that and then took my rhythm again.”
Rea said of Bautista’s recent falls, and how it has affected him, “I have not been pushing and pushing, and it looks like the (points) gap has been coming down. I have just been doing my own thing.
He is the guy that has giving me these gifts. I have not been changing my game plan. I have just been keeping my head down and doing what I could do. I know a lot of races we cannot win, but it is as important to take as my points as we can.
“I made stupid mistake myself in Misano, in the sprint race and lost a few points there. But aside from that we have finished, I feel, where we could finish each and every weekend. There is still a long way to go.”
Rea’s new slender lead in the championship seemed impossible even three rounds ago, but Rea knows you can lose a lead as well as build on it.
“After the Jerez sprint race the gap from the lead to us was 61 points, he reminded the media around him. “Now it has flipped over. It is racing and anything can happen. I made this mistake in 2016 when I had a nice comfortable margin and then I went down in Lausitz and had a technical problem in Laguna. Suddenly a 71-point lead went to 26.
“Then you start to change the way you ride, because you start to go on the defensive. It is good for me because I just keep doing what you are doing; you are figh