WorldSBK Donington: Rea ‘flirting with the limit’ for second

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

It was nearly a perfect day for Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea at Donington on Saturday as he secured a remarkable new Superpole best of 1’26.080 and then was only second in the opening WorldSBK race to the remarkable and unexpected pace of race winner Toprak Razgatlioglu.

Rea’s first race plan was to go out on his own, but it was Razgatlioglu who did that, leaving the Northern Irishman riding hard and sometimes almost over the edge to get back into the fleeing Yamaha rider’s slipstream.

“In the beginning, it was a little bit of a mess, to be honest,” said Rea. “The first few laps, I tried to get track position as fast as I could. I really trusted myself to go to the front. I didn’t see today that Toprak had that kind of rhythm. So, if I was to do the race again I would have just focused and stayed behind him and let him do the job.

“I compromised myself going into the chicane,” he continued. “The first lap I lost track position and then I was fighting. He did a few solid laps to break the group. So, when I did get track position, I had Alvaro [Bautista] dive-bombing me every time at the end of the back straight into the chicane, or on the brakes into the Melbourne loop. So, it was one of them where I felt like on my own I could be okay. Then when we went down, Toprak had much better rhythm.

“I had nothing left at the end. I really struggled at the end with the rear. Not so much grip.

“After FP3, we changed the wheel base of the bike. I think it’s time we need to go back to the base setup of the bike. Being that little bit longer, it was quite stable, but I lost a lot of grip. When the grip did go, it was moving quite a lot. Some improvements for tomorrow. Different strategy as well. Try to be a little bit closer.”

Rea was both delighted and frustrated by his amazing Superpole pace before race one on Saturday.

“The lap was incredible!” he confirmed. “Incredible lap time. In fact, you get so close to 25, I was gutted. As much as I was really happy and convinced it was a pole position, I was a bit gutted that I didn’t get 1’25.9, but it was nice.

“Nicer than anything today is the crowd. There’s so many people around the track as well. On my sighting lap, I seen so many people. That’s really nice to see. Both sides of the circuit, down Craner, the whole way up even to the back straight there were a lot of people. Thanks to all the fans for coming out.”

Rea was also the rider to get Kawasaki’s 500th WorldSBK podium; his teammate Lowes followed that up with 501 just a few seconds later than Rea.

“That’s nice,” said Rea. “I’m sure I got Kawasaki’s 100th race win as well, so that’s nice. But it’s not who gets it. I know I contributed a large quantity to them, but it’s something to be really proud of as a manufacturer, a small manufacturer like Kawasaki, to have 500 World Superbike podiums, especially in today’s era.”

Rea knew he was on the limit, and was just behind his rival Bautista when he went over his own limit, and fell, eventually no-scoring.

“Yeah, I got the best out of my package,” said the 35-year-old. “I was trying to flirt with the limit. When the rear tyre dropped, it was putting the front in crisis sometimes. Also, the edge grip in the rear, it was sliding a lot and pumping a lot. So, it was quite physical to ride, especially on fast change of direction and the Esses and coming out of there. If you don’t nail that throttle to rear stroke marriage coming out of there, because you go over the bumps at the curb at speed, you can blow through the stroke and then the traction control comes in and it’s a huge mess.

“Sometimes it does feel like riding a wild bull, but in a Superpole lap when everything is nice and you focus everything into one lap, you’ve got a lot of grip, the bike is on rails. Just when things are moving around and you’re trying to get the best out of it, it’s a little bit more on the limit.”

Rea was as surprised as anyone to see Toprak disappear at the pace he did, especially when he knew he could not quite match it all the way, despite his Superpole pace.

“Yeah, I was, to be honest,” Rea admitted. “He didn’t have that pace all weekend. I’m surprised at the pace, but I wasn’t surprised that Toprak found something. That’s normal. He’s done a really good job today. It’s a good reference for tomorrow to step up. No doubt I would have stayed there for a long time [behind Toprak, if he had been able to finish lap one behind him, rather than in sixth place at one stage] but in the end I still think that we suffered today more. So, I don’t see a change in result. I think we had to change the bike a little bit. So, no. There’s no excuses about my track position. The right guy won the race. We need to improve. Simple as that.”

Picture: GeeBee Images
Picture: GeeBee Images