WorldSBK Catalunya: ‘The track was nothing like the test in this race’ – Rea

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

Barcelona, the home circuit of Jonathan Rea’s KRT team, started out unusually badly for a rider who ended up the clear winner of WorldSBK race one on Saturday.

Even brake issues plagued his opening morning in the dry, then it rained in the afternoon (he was still fastest) and then it was wet again in FP3 this morning.

One more Superpole win later – his 27th, which takes him to third best ever in this table, one up on Troy Bayliss – and then a race win from Rea that most expected.

But it was no sure thing for Rea. “I have never raced here before so we did not really know what to expect,” he said after his 97th career WorldSBK race win.

“We had a test in July and I feel that lap-by-lap I am learning something new with the track. Where you can push, where you have to be conservative. It was a good learning race. I could really go in the beginning and then manage, relax a little bit in the middle when the gap was going up. I could manage the gap. I am super-happy to win because it is my team’s home race, the first race in Barcelona and I am very happy.”

Rea stopped out on track on his slow-down victory lap and pulled on an Ana Carrasco T-shirt, in tribute to the 2018 WorldSP300 champion who is currently out of action after a big crash in Estoril in testing. After an operation to fix her damaged vertebrae – thankfully with no neurological damage – it was a gesture form one Kawasaki and Provec Team rider to another, given that she has to miss this her home round.

“I texted my marketing guy Biel last night and asked him just to have a T-shirt ready and tell me a corner to stop at, but I only wanted to wear it for a win, to dedicate the win to Ana,” explained Rea, before going even closer to home. “Also my grandfather, who passed away 27 years ago today. He was a big influence in roadracing in Northern Ireland and a huge reason why I am here today. A big thanks to them as it gave me a lot of power today.”

Rea’s win, with Scott Redding in a close but still beaten second place, puts him 41 points ahead with two more Catalunya races remaining, and two more full rounds after this one concludes on Sunday 20 September.

It is still one race at a time for Rea, no more and no less risk. Even though now he can finish second behind Redding in every race and still be champion, and he understands the position he is in. Does it amplify his ability to take more risks, or attenuate his willingness to take risks?

“Both,” he said, “It is always easier to fight your battle from the top of the hill than the bottom, in the past. But sometimes… it really doesn’t matter. My focus is race-by-race, not Estoril or a championship it is just to maximise everything I can. Of course we have to minimise the risk but this is generally every race you think about this.

“You don’t want to make a mistake. I have a good feeling with the ZX-10RR right now and I am pushing close to the limit. So, I manage this.”

Rea’s continuing, indeed building, success is in stark contrast with the recent fortunes of his team-mate Alex Lowes, who was leading the championship after round one, but who suffered in race one in ninth place, with a front end set-up that saw him well away from his expected results, especially now Lowes has overcome his recent bout of illness and tested well at the Catalunya circuit in July.

Rea said of his working relationship with Lowes, “I have tried to help Alex but him and his crew chief are working one way and it is quite opposite to me and my crew. Technically it is hard to support each other. Of course, I can imagine it is difficult for him now because he started the season so strong and led the championship for so long after Phillip Island.

It is better if we have two Kawasakis in the front, but the relationship is the same. Between the Aragons, we had lunch together, played golf together and he is a great team-mate. Of course you always want to beat your team-mate but I hope for him he can be a little bit more competitive right now.”

Rea gave the impression, as he does in these kinds of assured winning performances that all the homework had been done – during the July test in part - and now it was a case of completing it all. Partly true, it seems.

“We had the same bike, pretty much, in the test and we changed it a little bit during the weekend because conditions were wet,” he said of what was a pretty weird couple of days at his team’s home circuit, if only because of weather for the first time in 2020 and that disturbed dry Friday session.

“This morning in Superpole the grip level was so low after the rain last night washed all the rubber away. So, the track was nothing like the test in this race, the grip level was so low, even thought the temperature was high in the test. I was spinning a lot more and struggling with front traction more than the test.

“I expect, lap-by-lap, the track will improve for tomorrow. I had a few moments and at three-quarters distance, instead of horsing it in there and trying to make the apex, I went a bit wide. It went from 1.9 of a gap to 1.5 then I could manage it.”

Rea’s overnight advantage over Scott Redding grew to 41 points, with Rea again looking most people’s short odds favourite on Sunday.