Is the six-time World Champion on the ropes? The Kawasaki rider adds more saves and some falls in a fiercely competitive campaign
It is already an indisputable fact the 2021 season of the FIM Superbike World Championship is one of the most fierce and unpredictable in recent times. Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) have put on a spectacular show from the beginning of the campaign, so even that, after various ups and downs in the classification, the two rivals have exactly the same points after 21 races: tied at 311 points apiece.
SAVED ‘Rea Style’: From Misano to Navarra
One of the most striking events of the campaign is seeing the six-time World Champion under constant pressure from multiple rivals and, even more significantly, the errors that have resulted, translated into various saves and some falls while running. Accustomed to the winning voracity of Rea, the 'Cannibal' who has dominated the competition with an iron fist since his first title with Kawasaki in 2015, the increase in shocks and setbacks that the pilot has experienced in the first part of the 2021 campaign has not gone unnoticed, and is more or less inventoried. The cameras have picked up at least that epic save in Turn 1 (to the right) during Race 1 of Misano, with 12 laps to go, chasing Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), and the no less meritorious save starring in Assen during the second free practice session, when his bike reared before the last chicane; Rea able to pull it down to the apex of the first part of the chicane and barely lose time.
Again, in a race, this time the first of the Navarra Round, the Northern Irish rider made a double save after losing the front of his ZX-10RR while he chased after Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati) in another right-hand corner. Nor was Race 2 in Navarra without scares for Rea, who had a warning from his ZX-10RR on lap 17 and brushed the crash at Turn 14 (again a right turn), which Scott Redding (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati) took advantage of to snatch second position from him.
DROPS UNDER PRESSURE: From Donington to Most
However, it is not always possible to avoid falling, especially when riding on the limit. Rea has posted two significant and costly stumbles this year. At his 'home' round, at Donington Park, he had an unexpectedly difficult weekend. Defeated by Razgatlioglu in Race 1, he crashed in Race 2, when he was leading the event but was subjected to heavy pressing by the Turkish driver. The incident, 13 laps from the end, occurred at Turn 8, to the right, and after losing control of the front of the Kawasaki. Rea left the Round giving the lead to Razgatlioglu.
In Race 1 of the Czech Round, at the Autodrom Most, Rea went spectacularly to the ground at Turn 1, for the umpteenth time in a right turn after the front axle steering of his ZX-10RR closed. He was able to remount the bike, but suffered a second crash at Turn 20, and this time he had to abandon that race for good. It was Rea's second-worst finish in a three-race WorldSBK weekend in terms of points. Toprak and Redding took a good bite out of the Northern Irishman in the Championship and the performance of Ducati's in the next Round, in Navarra, definitely turned the fight for the title into a three-way affair, since Redding had closed the gap to the top down to just 38 points.
PROBLEM(S) DETECTED: The Champion's analysis
With such a recurring pattern in his accidents - falls and saves from the second half of the race, almost always in curves to the right, and with difficulties in the stability of the front - the multi-time world champion and his men in the KRT seem to have perfectly identified the problem. In Navarra, after the first race, Rea analysed: “The front tire started to warm up, stability started to decrease, and the front of the bike was moving. I pushed a little harder and had some sliding at the front, and that was enough to tell me to stop sooner.”
And that is precisely the other side of the problem: The best version of Rea, as he defines himself, now has to constantly compete to the limit against, at least, two rivals also in their best form and fully alerted to their real possibilities of dethroning the champion. On Sunday in Navarra, at the close of his second consecutive weekend without victories, Rea reflected on the situation: “I feel like I'm riding the best I've ever ridden, but the margin for error is very, very small. This also shows how fast and how strong others are being. As soon as the temperature in the front tyre came up a little bit too high, I was really folding the front in some areas. The idea is taking a little bit of stress out of the front, give me more stability and try and go with him. Even though I was struggling, I was not too far away. A couple of mistakes dropped me back but lap-by-lap I was close. We have a lot of inertia in the bike, really pushing the bike into the corner. I need a stable front. As soon as that temperature comes up, the front starts moving, it’s not so good for us. From a chassis point of view, we can change the head pipe position to give me some more stability.”
LOTS TO FIGHT: What can we expect in the next rounds?
Thus, on the horizon of 2021 there is no other scenario in sight right now than a continuation of the spectacular battles, and possibly with more involved protagonists. Winning riders such as Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team) or Rinaldi aspire to rediscover victory during the second half of the season, and something similar can be said of the rising Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) or his brand partner Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), who yearn to climb to the highest drawer as the next step in their career in the category.
The next round is at Magny-Cours, a circuit that Rea likes, and where he secured three of his six world crowns, but also where Redding won in Race 2 last year and where Razgatlioglu took victory in two of the three races of 2019. The battle continues.
Catch the action from Magny-Cours and the rest of the 2021 season with the WorldSBK VideoPass!