Jonathan Rea leads Michael Ruben Rinaldi into Turn 1 at Aragon - Photo WorldSBK
Jonathan Rea just keeps ticking boxes in his title defence. Another weekend and another victory, but crucially also another three podium finishes. Consistency wins championships, and in the history of the Superbike World Championship he has no equal in this regard.
Motorland Aragon was a case in point. With back-to-back rounds at the Spanish circuit, this was a prime opportunity for his rivals to take points away from him. Instead Rea extended his title lead to 34 points by a mixture of risk-taking on track and conservative strategy in the garage.
Aragon is historically Ducati territory. The long straight clearly plays to the strength of the Panigale V4R, its horsepowers. When riding on board with Rea throughout the race weekend we could see where his bike excels: through Turn 10 on the edge of the tyre with the throttle pinned and the rear sliding but still able to find drive grip. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but giving up so much acceleration on the straights meant the Kawasaki rider had to push incredibly hard everywhere else.
“It was tough,” said Rea after Race 2. “I came close to crashing a few times! It was two very different races because in the Superpole Race Scott came past quite early and it disturbed my rhythm a bit. He set a very good pace. I was strong in the first part of the circuit though and I enjoyed the ten lap race, but I realised it was going to be for second.
“In Race 2 I that I needed to go hard instead of managing the race. I had some big moments. I was pushing the front quite a lot and having a lot of front slides. It was the same for everyone but I went full gas in that race. It is hard when we are giving away so much on the back straight. On the rest of the track you have to ride at 100% but not make any mistakes. It seems that other riders can make a small mistake and it’s easier for them to keep their lap time. It was more a race for me trying to be clean and not making any mistakes.”
The disadvantage for Rea on the straights was clear, he was 3 km/h slower than his teammate Alex Lowes and over 5 slower than most of his rivals. The biggest disadvantage was in the acceleration zones when compared to the Ducati and then having to ride on the ragged edge through the long left handers at the end of the lap make back some time.
“I had to prepare my exit from Turn 15 onto the long straight and try to slip into the slipstream but I would make zero ground. I am sure if you compare the speed chart times I spent most of the race in a slipstream either with Scott or Rinaldi, but it is still probably slower. I learned last year that Ducati have this advantage with power but it does not mean it is the best package on the day. If you saw today the entry speed I could carry, our braking performance and how we kept the tyre until the end showed we had a better package.”
Feeling that he had the better overall package on track is important. Knowing that he has the best package off the track is crucial. For the second weekend in a row Kawasaki refused to panic. They refused to chase their tail looking for small improvements. They told their rider to go out and get the job done. Rea had to adapt and find improvements.
Last week in Race 2 the five times championship said that he found a bit of magic on Sunday. It allowed him to find seven seconds overnight. Last weekend Rea was looking for changes to the bike to find some performance. Instead of making changes, his crew chief, former 500GP rider Pere Riba, said that the improvements needed to come from the rider. Rea was challenged by his team to make it work.
He adapted and found the time, and this allowed him to manage the tyre and run away with the race. At the Teruel Round the team kept the same settings from the previous weekend, and once again on Sunday Rea was able to make a step forward.
The biggest visual change for Rea was that he was now dragging his elbow but far more significant was that he was braking earlier into corners and conserving the tyres better. He was able to ride more comfortably and save the tyre. It offered him a big step at Aragon 1 but for Aragon 2 it was an all out battle where tyre conservation wasn’t a concern; it was able gritting your teeth and getting the job done.
“I think the riding style thing has been a little bit exaggerated. It is a nice story but it is not that much different. I still have that conventional, upright old school style. It is a bit more economical. It is a bit more physical to be always off the side of the bike. I convinced myself on the startline not to go away at the beginning, not to have a strategy but just to fight like hell for 18 laps. That is how the race went down and it was nice to get it done.”
The decision by Rea to opt for the harder SC0 tyre for Race 2 certainly changed the approach to the race. Sitting on the grid waiting for the start he was surprised not to see the red flashes of the SCX rear tyre on Redding’s bike. With Rea and Chaz Davies the only riders opting against the ten lap Superpole Race rubber it was clear that Ducati were taking part in some gamesmanship. They had painted over the red flashes with a sharpie. The mind games were in full swing between the title contenders but it made for a very dramatic battle.
Redding gambled on the SCX tyre and was forced into an all-out attack in the early stages. He knew that if Rea was in front at half distance that he would be almost impossible to beat.
So it proved with the rubber dropping off for Redding, and Rea eventually making his move into the lead. He now holds a commanding title lead, and with three rounds remaining the clock is ticking for his title rivals.
This is part of a series of articles published in partnership with RacingLowdown.com, run by MotoMatters.com contributor Steve English.
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