WorldSBK San Juan: Rea ‘transformed bike’ for Sunday thriller| Gordon Ritchie | WorldSBK
The Argentinean race weekend had the potential to see KRT’s Jonathan Rea lose his WorldSBK Champion status with one round to go.
With an early crash in FP2 on Friday, after choosing to sit out the first 15 minutes of so of FP1 to see how the track bedded-in, he was up against it for a time.
He was only fifth on the grid after Superpole but his second-third-second weekend race record was enough to keep him ‘only’ 30 points behind Toprak Razgatlioglu with 62 points available in Indonesia at the final round.
Not over yet, but it was another tough one for Rea, made easier by some changes to his bike for race two.
“I was really happy with how I felt on the bike today, more so in race two,” Rea said on Sunday night. “We chose something really strange with the bike that you wouldn’t consider, and it transformed the bike, especially with the grip level I had from the beginning.
“I’ve been struggling all weekend to really make the tyre work in the initial laps. Then I had it. The combination of tyres worked really well. The SC2 front and the SCX rear tyre. Looking forward now to Indonesia.
“I enjoyed the bike. That was important. I struggled yesterday to really put the Pirelli rubber on the tarmac to really dig in and go with the other guys but today I had that traction. I had the feeling. I could play with the bike. Some key areas we were amazing. I just lost a little bit of time behind Toprak.
“Scott was able to really go. From that point, it was like, wait for a mistake from Toprak and concentrate on him to get up at the race win. I think I should have tried a bit harder because I think my pace was really good at the end and I could have really fought for that one. But, congratulations to Scott. He had a really good rhythm at the end of the race. Best of the rest today.”
Rea, like the rest of his competitors, did not look like he could try much harder than he did in race two. The windy conditions in the final race were the latest thing that Rea and co had to deal with - from dust storms, to a warm Saturday, to a windy Sunday. The very design of San Juan, especially on the undulating main straight, made for some tricky moments.
“Compared to yesterday, the wind, we had a little bit of a headwind yesterday on the straight,” said Rea. “Today we had more of a crosswind. So, it was harder to get into the end of the back straight. On the back straight, it was quite similar, but for the rest it wasn’t too bad. It was quite consistent and not gusty, which was okay. You could really understand. The hardest point was when you would go past the stands and the garages into T1 you’d go off this drop-off, you just got swept by the side wind from the left. Same for everybody. Just a matter of understanding it and riding to the conditions.”
Rea sees one key element he toiled with compared to the other machines around him, even in an impressive final race.
“We’re really losing on the straight,” he said. “I’m really struggling even with the slipstream. But, I think we maximised just to be there with them guys the rest of the lap. It shows that we’re maximising the package. Just seems when I make a small mistake it penalises the lap time more so I have to be really clean with the lap. I have to be really content with that because we fought until the end. Much better than yesterday’s performance. Thanks to the guys in the garage for never giving up and always trying to find something better. Hopefully we can take these lessons to Indonesia.”
Indonesia is an all-new track for everyone, so how does Rea prepare for it?
“I can’t - it’s simple as that,” said Rea. “Just turn up and try and enjoy the whole atmosphere of the weekend. I love going to new tracks. They’ve suited me in the past. Coming here, places like that. Looks from aerial shots and photographs like the circuit is really, really nice. So, I’m looking forward to it. It’s a nice place to go to finish the year. It feels like a real world championship now, being outside of Europe. So, obviously it would be nicer to be in front in the championship at this point. Go there with a big bag of optimism and see what we can do.”
Rea was another who was stoked to get some fan interaction going at Villicum.
“Massive thanks to all the crowd that came out and bought a ticket,” he said. “It’s so nice to see passionate fans out there. Sometimes we get fans trackside and they don’t know much about the bikes or the event, but the people calling riders’ names out in the paddock is so, so nice. I think it helps having Mercado here, as well. You get the atmosphere in the grid and they’re chanting his name on the grid. It would be nice if it were mine, but the home support was really nice for him. I can sponge off that as well!”
Rea was reminded of some classic WorldSBK season finishes - Imola 2002, Sugo 1998 - before being asked about what he thinks might happen at the final round.
“I don’t want to think about it,” he admitted. “I have to go out and do my best. The best I can do is go out and try and win all three races and see what happens. It’s not the best position to be at the last race, but that means the pressure is not on me. It’s firmly on Toprak and the team to manage that. I know mentally even almost having the job done bringing it to Estoril last year and Scott being so many points behind, when I was leading the championship you still had these doubts in your brain. I think the points gap is a lot less than it was to Scott last year. So, just go out and try and pull the pin and see what we can do.”