Misano WorldSBK: ‘Write Toprak off at your peril’ - Rea

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

KRT’s Jonathan Rea showed tremendous early aggression in Misano WorldSBK race one but despite leading for ten laps, once Alvaro Bautista was past him it was a case of second place was all he could gather.

Bautista was on a different choice of new development rear SCX tyre from Rea, and that may have contributed to the Ducati rider setting a new lap record on lap 18 of 21, when Rea was losing grip. So was it more a drop in pace from Rea or late pace from Bautista?

“A little bit of both, to be honest,” Rea admitted from the Italian paddock. “I feel like in the beginning I felt stronger than the other two, to be honest. I got to the front, held my rhythm. I was able to hold the gap similar. I felt like I was better in some areas of the track. Alvaro was better in some areas.

“Just over half race distance he came past in Curvone fifth gear. He just arrived as I was tipping in, so a bit of a shock. I went wide and had to regroup a little bit. Then I just struggled to get onto the back of him. He had a higher rhythm. Using the tyre a little bit better, as well.

“I really extracted everything out of the bike in the beginning. So, I have no complaints, really. I could see he was doing some things better. I will try to use that to improve the bike for tomorrow. My start was okay today. I felt I got off the line quite well. But I rode within myself all the race, just tried to not make mistakes.”

There was a bit of late internal drama for Rea, but it proved a false alarm. “The last few laps I was having some issues with my gear lever,” the Kawasaki rider explained. “My foot kept slipping off the gear lever. I was worried there was some water or something, but there was nothing on the bike. I think the lever is just too short. So, aside from that, it was a pretty clean race.

“As soon as Alvaro had that kind of rhythm at the end, I just… Today the best I could do was second. I conserved my position. I could cruise because Rinaldi was at five seconds. I let him catch a little bit, brought the bike home. I’m happy with twenty points, but a little bit frustrated that we weren’t a bit closer.”

Rea knew something had happened to Toprak Razgatlioglu, who was behind Rea once the race settled down, but not exactly what.

“I assumed something happened because the gap went from plus something Toprak, to plus five Rinaldi. So, I don’t know what happened, but the guys told me it was a technical. So, I’m happy he’s okay, at least. Frustrating for him.”

Rea was asked what he needed to stay with Bautista on Sunday for the ten lap and full distance races then?

“We just need to improve,” Rea said simply. “I would love to have some more power, because then I could calm down that little bit in the corners, not take so much risk and exploit some free speed on the straights, but we can’t magic that.

“Honestly, we’re getting the best out of the bike. I’m really happy with the guys in the box.

“There’s another option rear tyre that we haven’t tried yet that both Ducatis used in the race. So, I think tomorrow morning, it’s very hard to analyse in a cool condition, but we should try this tyre because maybe it will bring something. There’s a reason those guys used it. They were here testing and have good information. So, we may consider a change of tyre, some electronic changes.

“In the end of the race, I was struggling to get into the apex a little bit, just getting forced. In the beginning I felt I could pass inside, outside, what I wanted to do before the back straight. But in the end of the race, I lost that strength. We’ll try to improve that.”

Rea was irritated with the idea that it is all over for Toprak Razgatlioglu, despite him being so far behind at this early point.

“No, it’s too early,” he said, continuing, “Do you know the story of 2019? He [Bautista] was 61 points in front and I beat him by more than 160-something points. There’s so much racing to go. Anything can happen in racing.

“You can write Toprak off at your peril, but it’s a long way to go.

“I focus on myself. Try to do the best I can. I know it’s important in circuits where you can win, you have to try to win, but in circuits you can’t, you have to maximise your potential. That’s what I hope to do this season. Minimise my mistakes and be there.”

Rea was then asked if the new dynamic of Razgatlioglu being so far back may affect his confidence. Rea, in theory, would need Toprak to take points off of Bautista sometimes, especially in a race that Rea might win? And Toprak does not seem as happy and confident as 2021. Rea’s not buying it.

“Does it help my case?” questioned Rea. “I don’t think so. Honestly, I have huge respect for these guys and I think on their day, each one of us can win. So, I don’t think he’s lagging this year or struggling. I think it’s just a matter of clicking.

“Certainly strange because with Yamaha, in the beginning of the season they were quite evenly matched on the straight. In the middle of the season, they found something, I couldn’t pass Toprak. But then this year it’s gone back to how it was in the beginning of last year. So, I don’t know if they’ve changed something in the engine or the aerodynamics or whatever, but it seems like they’re just not as strong. They’re not stronger than us anymore in the power. But he’s world-class. He’s got great people around. You guys are trying to write him off already. Good luck with that. He’s a fighter. It’s a long way to go.”

Rea stated that his Kawasaki has no more power than last season, but he is still the only Kawasaki rider really fighting for wins, as some others struggled. Rea gave his take on that.

“Sometimes it’s not a good thing having a teammate that’s so strong, like I had when Tom [Sykes] and I were battling in ’15 and ’16. Alex [Lowes] joined the team in this COVID era when we didn’t race for a long time. He rode last year through injury. He’s just finding his feet. I still think he’s got much more potential than he’s showing. He can be there. But it’s true. I have a lot of experience with this bike. It has to be ridden in a particular way to maximise its potential. I understand that because we can dance together. We’ve been together many years. Unfortunately, the satellite Kawasakis aren’t at the same level.

“It looks like the satellite Ducatis are very competitive. We need to improve. We need to improve the bike. We’re pushing engineers every day with our comments to improve, but a championship like this is very hard with regulations to just magically find some improvements. So, we’re doing our best. It would be nice to have more Kawasakis in the front.”