Jonathan Rea is closing in on a century of WorldSBK victories but Sunday afternoon’s Aragon victory was on his best. WorldSBK commentator Steve English looks for the reason behind their succeess...
Has there been a sweeter win for Jonathan Rea than Sunday’s Spanish success at Aragon? Possibly, but it’s difficult to think of a better performance. At a circuit that was expected to suit the Ducati Panigale V4R it was instead the green machine of Rea’s Kawasaki that dominated proceedings. In Parc Ferme, he arrived standing on the foot pegs celebrating but, once again, it was the five-time World Champion that deserved the standing ovation. His weekend wasn’t perfect but when it counted on Sunday, he was peerless.
Rea and Kawasaki are a match made in heaven. Over the course of 151 race starts together they’ve claimed a remarkable 80 WorldSBK victories, 71 of them in full length races and nine Superpole Race wins. Their ability to adapt and keep winning is unparalleled in the history of the Championship. Sometimes though, it’s not about adapting and changing. It’s about maximising what you’ve got.
“The Superpole Race gave me a lot of confidence,” said Rea afterwards. “On Saturday, Scott was in front and that disturbed my rhythm and was slower than I could go. I got sucked into his rhythm. It was harder to respond. In Race 2, it was easier to manage when the tyre would drop. I learned from Race 1 yesterday.
“For Race 2, I wanted more stability on the brakes, but they said no, because it would compromise turning. They said ‘please, just in the second part of the race, brake three, four, five metres earlier and don’t compromise your exit.’ Everybody is dropping, the offset of the lap time is there, but when I am trying to keep going then the lap time is not coming.”
Rea’s relationship with his crew chief, Pere Riba, is such that he has complete trust in the former WorldSSP rider. Riba knows what his rider needs and understands that, sometimes, he has to make a difficult decision and not give Rea what he’s asking for. On Sunday, this strength of Riba shone through and Rea reaped the rewards.
“I was so surprised by the pace,” continued Rea before talking about a change in his riding style for this weekend. “I did not expect this pace and rhythm. I knew I could be fast; this weekend, I tried to make some changes and it was the first time that I’ve been using elbow sliders. I tried to make this change during the winter because I wanted to be faster when the tyre drops.
“I had been compromising my exit when the tyre was dropping because I was still trying to attack like it was a fresh tyre. I was entering the corner too fast so I’ve been working with [my riding coach] Fabien Foret to hang off the bike more. It really helps the bike to turn better. It’s easier on the left corners so it helps a lot in Turn 10 and the last corner at Aragon. We’re trying to teach an old dog new tricks!”
The last corner saw, arguably, the only mistake of Rea’s weekend. He missed a backshift during the race and ran off track. Without enough engine braking he was too deep into the corner and suddenly was under attack from Chaz Davies. The Ducati rider had been hunting throughout the race and picking up a tenth of a second here and another tenth there. The pressure was increasing for Rea but once he made the mistake, he had the clear head and determination that has been his hallmark. For half a lap they traded places but ultimately, Davies had no answer for Rea’s pace.
“When I made that mistake and Chaz came past I knew, I could attack him again but I wanted to attack him back straight away and set my own rhythm. I knew I could push and put my head down again.”
For Rea the goal was clear; don’t let a Ducati dictate terms in Aragon. In Race 1, Scott Redding hit the front and compromised Rea’s pace. He didn’t want a repeat of that on Sunday. For six years, Rea has been the King of Adaptation in WorldSBK. On Sunday, he unlocked a little more potential from himself and the team kept a cool head by not panicking and changing the bike. Rea was strong on track and Riba showed the strength of his convictions in the garage. There’s never been a team like theirs in WorldSBK and Sunday proved it again.
Find out if Jonathan Rea and KRT can do it all over again at Aragon this weekend with the WorldSBK VideoPass!