WorldSBK Argentina: Rea ‘celebrating little wins’ with second

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea had a fair idea that Alvaro Bautista would probably win race one at Villicum, not that a six-time WorldSBK champion will ever truly give up on anything, we must presume.

Saturday had been a small epic even before we got to the opening race, with Superpole a real knock-down drag out fight between the top three riders - Toprak Razgatlioglu finally winning with a lap that was extra-special.

“Qualifying was amazing,” said Rea. “Although I didn’t get the pole, the lap was top drawer. No mistakes. I got the best of the bike all the weekend. Then just not enough. Toprak did that little bit extra. He found the magic.

“Happy to be in the front,” he said of the opening race action. “I made a good start. I potentially could have led the race at T1 but I let Toprak go ahead. I was kind of just slip streaming him in the back straight. Alvaro came past, and then Toprak went inside. Alvaro dropped back then, and I found myself behind Bassani but just calm, waiting. He was doing a good rhythm at that point of the race. I thought, ‘let’s just stay there,’ but Alvaro came past when I was trying to go through on Bassani. I couldn’t pass anywhere, without stuffing him. It was impossible to pass. So when Alvaro came past, them two or three laps and got his head down, and I was stuck. I just had to really grind him down.

“The tyres were moving a little bit then at the end, I plotted my move. I tried two or three times just parking on the inside of the chicane, but he would get the cutback and just… acceleration. But I felt like he was defending. He started to defend on the rear, so I could concentrate on the exit of the chicane and I found my place into the penultimate corner. It was all I could do, really, defend second. It feels good to come out and battle, but when I was riding with him [Bassani] I couldn’t really do what I wanted to do.

“On the penultimate lap, I did one of my fastest laps of the race, ’37.5 by myself with clear track.

“Then the last lap, I seen I had a gap and just no chance to go with Bautista, so no need to do ’37. So I just brought the bike home.”

Given the track temperatures just into the 50°C mark, Rea was asked if he could have - should have - used the SCX softer rear tyres. “Honestly, we were so borderline to use it or not,” Rea admitted. “Even on the grid, Pere [Riba] was sort of leaving it up to me. It’s strange with our bike, because normally we make the tyre work. Last year, it was a sliding door moment on the day two because I started to put temperature in the tyre. This year, I still was struggling to really generate the temperature. So even with 50 degrees in the track or 48 degrees in the track, there was the potential to cold tear on the X. Sounds silly, but even the air temperature is quite breezy out there. 18 degrees in the air. So, there was a lot of factors. We went with the SC0 in the end. We suspected our rivals would use zero. Anyway, the tyre looked good in parc ferme. Alvaro’s SCX didn’t look too nice after the race, but he used it. He was gone. So, fair play.”

Bautista had made what seemed at the time an audacious pass on Rea, on a short infield straight, but Rea said it was just his mistake in gearshifting that opened a door Alvaro walked through.

“I really messed up my exit,” Rea explained. “I miss-shifted between first and second. He probably would have passed me anyway. That’s still a big acceleration from first to fourth gear but, I did help him make the pass by making a small mistake.”

What is possible for Rea on Sunday in Argentina? Especially with a Toprak there to run disruption on Bautista, maybe?

“I think if we can repeat the same pace but without Bassani or somebody in front, to do my own rhythm… I don’t know what I could do if I was behind Alvaro. The best thing is I could go with him, but today I had a little bit in the pocket behind Axel. So, I think my rhythm could have been a little bit better.”

The organisers showed Rea’s on-board camera footage when Bautista went past and then when Toprak went down. Did it feel as dramatic as it was or was it just the camera as they entered the braking zone and Bautista went flashing past to lead?

“Really I was through on Toprak and I should have moved,” said Rea. “But, after Assen, I know how he rides. He rides hard. He’s going to try. I gave that space to come across the front of me. Alvaro was clean through. He was going to lead into that corner nine, eight. So, I sort of got bottle-necked a little bit and gave up my position.”

Rea seemed to enjoy the celebration of second in the race as much as a race win, externally at least. The reason was simple for Rea, in that it was winning his best realistic finishing position. “What can I do?” He said. “I don’t need to say too much because I think I have the respect of a lot of people. The team were very happy in parc ferme. We need that. I’m second in a world championship race. These guys are doing much better. They’re winning. I can’t be pissed off. I’m doing my best. I think I’m getting the best out of the bike. It’s celebrating the little wins. Not 25 points, but I think we can be pretty happy with it.”

Picture: GeeBee Images