2017 Aragon WorldSBK Review, Part 1: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...

Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies went toe to toe and bar to bar in both races at Aragon, and while they shared the spoils with a win apiece it was clear that Aragon could be a defining moment in the 2017 WorldSBK season.

Over the course of two 18 lap races there was nothing to separate both riders. Even so at the end of an eventful weekend of racing Rea had still extended his championship lead by a further 20 points over Davies. Saturday's Race 1 crash came at the conclusion of a thrilling back and forth between the two riders who have defined WorldSBK in recent years.

It's easy to criticize Davies after his costly error but having lost a full morning of running due to an engine problem he was on the back foot. The 30 year old cited an issue with weight transfer on used tires as the cause for his crash which likely came from not having enough track time over the opening two days. When asked if he had pushed over the limit in search of the win the Ducati rider made it clear that striving to win was the single thought on his mind after having been on the back foot in Australia and Thailand.

“I want to win and nothing less is particularly satisfying for me,” said Davies. “There is always that conflict of ‘settling’ for a result - especially when you have got a competitor who is clearly as comfortable and as strong as Johnny has been at these first few rounds. It really isn’t good enough to settle. It is easy to say that I should have settled but Johnny is at the top of his game, the bike is at the top of its game. There is a conflict in there for me I go all out to win.”

There's more than one way to skin a cat

Aragon showed once again how similar the Ducati and Kawasaki bikes are this year. While Rea holds a 50 point title advantage over Davies there is precious little between them in outright performance. The design philosophies of both machines are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but over the course of a complete lap there isn't anything to choose between them.

In Aragon we saw the Kawasaki was better in the twisty opening half of the lap whereas the Ducati was superb on the exit onto the back straight and the final corners. The differences made it impossible to open a gap when either rider hit the front of the field.

“We made a setting change and reverted to one we tested in the winter,” said Rea. “I felt really good with the setup here this weekend. The bike is so much more stable on the brakes and has great stopping power. In the past I didn't have as much margin and was at the limit of the tire but here we made a big step forward on the trail braking corners.

“But the way that the Kawasaki and Ducati make their power is very different and their bike has a lot more torque, particularly in first and second gear corners. I feel that maybe we have too much power for first gear so our torque curve isn't perfect and we need to use electronics to control this better and when you also have our second gear being a bit lazy it's not ideal.”

For Davies, now a six time winner at Aragon, the win did little to quell his feeling that Ducati has underperformed this year and still need to make improvements.

“We are not as strong as we would like to be at the minute,” said Davies. “We are good but we are not good enough. In the back of my mind winning is great but we have been on the back foot in a few too many areas at these first few rounds. I won the race, but things did not feel particularly good. When you win, but you still have a lot to complain about, it’s a sure sign that things need to improve!

Fifty shades of gray in the title fight

Rea left Spain with a fifty point advantage over Davies and after just three rounds it's a very healthy lead to hold. The Northern Irishman is taking nothing for granted and is very aware that there is still ten rounds remaining and anything can happen.

“It’s ridiculous to think about that and it is disrespectful to all my rivals because they are so strong,” bristled Rea when asked about his title lead. “As trends have it, these first tracks of the season have always been strong for me and we go into some tracks where it is stronger for the others as well. The lead is nice, and it creates some pressure for the others.

“It is always comforting for me to lead from the front because you do not have to win every race. But it is ridiculous to think about a championship right now because we are only three rounds into the season. It's definitely more comfortable to have this lead though and not have to win every race, but the goal is still to keep winning races. It's early in the season to have a lead like this and it's very easy for things to turn quickly and you never have a big enough lead.

“If you start to ride with a championship in your mind you ride very differently. It's way to early in the season to start thinking about the title and how to ride but last year really did think teach me a lot about how to approach the season and I know that at this stage of the year I need to keep winning races.”

Davies also knows that winning races is the order of the day for him in the coming rounds. The Welshman said after his Saturday crash that while consistency is important you need to coming away with 25 points on a regular basis if you are to be a true title force.

“I can finish second every time you want me to and make a boring race, but that’s not going to be good enough to be a world champion,” said Davies. “I’ve finished second before and third too and I know that to win a championship you need consistency but you also need to win races. At the moment we do not have the package to win races consistently. Hopefully this weekend is a wake-up call and we can do some good work, starting from the test. I think my championship starts now!”

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I was disappointed when Ducati went to the alloy frame for their motoGP bikes because I liked the purity of the stressed engine/minimal frame approach and was never convinced that it might not have worked with access to custom tyres. In alloy form the Panigale is a reiteration of the concept and one that has won many races but not championships.

My wonder is are the crashes that have troubled Davies last year and this a function of the rider or is the Panigale still lacking slightly in feedback from the front in the same way that the "frameless" MotoGP bikes were?

Melandri might be a useful person to ask given that he had a beyond disasterous experience riding the Bridgestone shod GP bike but is doing fine so far on the Panigale.

I too would be curious to hear Melandri's feedback and I'm pretty happy to see him up to speed and consistency so early.