WorldSBK Catalunya: Rea salvages podium with ‘almost a completely new bike’

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

As we have all learned via six world championships and record tallies in almost every significant statistical WorldSBK measurement, you can never write off Jonathan Rea and KRT.

But after being pushed wide at the start of race one in Catalunya, he was down in seventh place early on. He said his eventual second place was more with other riders losing their pace and Rea controlling his. That was the secret to a podium ride that looked anything like that early on.

As the long races at Catalunya were always going to be about tyres - in dry conditions at least - it is no surprise that preparation, strategy and tactics all intermingled to help Rea help himself, after he had displayed the requisite amount of that elusive quality in motorcycle racers, patience.

“It was for sure a strategy race,” Rea told after taking second place and a silver version of Catalunya’s unique four pillared trophies. “It was funny. I was just talking to Garret (Gerloff) there about managing the tyres. We know this circuit is really tough for managing the tyre. Rinaldi released the brake in turn one, and unfortunately Locatelli was on the outside of me as well.

“So, Rinaldi hit me. I touched Locatelli, and he went wide. I found myself P7, maybe? So, I thought for fuck’s sake - again. A lot of work to do. My start was good. It was good until I thought, it’s turn one. Everyone is in fifth gear. Relax.”

Until he was touched, ran wide and then had a seemingly mammoth recovery job ongoing. “Then just step by step, I was calm. I felt like Toprak and Alvaro are gone. Thinking about a podium today… Then I didn’t go faster. Them guys just came back. A podium is maybe possible. Don’t give up. I said, ‘Toprak is not going.’ Maybe second is possible. So, there was a point where you were riding and it’s hard because you’re not pushing, but you’re just conserving the tyre. It’s just that patience to exercise that. My bike was good today.”

And he had two very different specs of bike to ride on Saturday, after some quick and big changes to his set-up, with help brought in from across the garage floor, “I have to thank the crew. Not just my crew, but Alex’s crew as well. They helped completely change my bike just before the race, after the superpole. We really missed out on having an FP3 (it was wet and Rea did not go out).

We found a good positive with the front of the bike. The front tyre issue that we had last year and yesterday wasn’t there. It was more in the rear. I really struggled with rear traction, which is strange. Normally, our Kawasaki is really good in mechanical traction, but today, when everybody had grip, I wasn’t going forward like before. So, it was more about just doing my pace and seeing where we could finish.”

Rea said his chassis changes were big, not just some geometry adjustments, but he would not say what they were. “No, it was a huge change,” he said. “I can’t say what, but it was a huge change. Almost a complete new bike.”

Nothing to do with the August test they had done here at Catalunya? “No,” he stated. “We changed the bike to last year for Superpole, overnight. Then we went back to what we know.”

Rea eventually did open up a bit about what was done, and why. “Basically, last year Pirelli entered just the super soft SCX tyre, the ‘red’ tyre, which is a soft construction. This is more like SCQ family now. The new SCX is the 557 which is a harder carcass, but soft. The latest generation Pirelli tyres are much more stiff.

“So, all our development in the off-season was more about how to make the soft families work, because we struggled last year in Most and Navarra with the SCX. We were the guys that couldn’t make it work. So, we were thinking, this new generation family, maybe we need to push the tyre more? We tried to do something like that in the Superpole, but I had zero traction.

“I have to only thank Alex for a good wheel in Superpole. I had zero traction on the exit, and normally that’s our strong point. Still something else to look at, but in the front of the bike, I felt much better than yesterday.”