Notes and quotes on the second WorldSBK race at Imola from our man on the ground:
Momentum for a technical shake-up in WorldSBK has increased but the manner to instigate that change is a big question
The Imola paddock was full of rumor and discussion about changes to the technical regulations for 2018. With Kawasaki and Ducati having shared all but four wins since the start of the 2015 season there have been calls to grant other manufacturers some avenues with which to improve performance. Discussions between the manufacturers took place once again in Italy to lay down a framework for the future.
No answers were forthcoming but with Yamaha and Honda having brought all-new Superbikes to the series in the last year and struggled to compete with the front runners it is clear that the winds of change may be in the air. For 2017 Aprilia increased their involvement with the Milwaukee Aprilia bikes built and prepared in Italy. The former title winning marque has thus far failed live up to preseason expectations.
The tension that has been building between Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies finally spilled over at Assen. Three years of competing with one another for race wins and championships has strained their relationship, and on Saturday at Assen it reached breaking point.
On the final laps of Superpole, Davies was on a flying lap and came across Rea through turn seven. Being forced to sit up and avoid the touring Kawasaki, emotions got the better of Davies and at the end of the session he hit out at Rea in Parc Ferme.
“You stayed on three quarters of the track,” stated Davies after qualifying third. “I don’t know how tight a line you can pull out of that left but I’m three quarters of the track out there. You were in the way mid-way through the corner and then on the exit I had to pick it up because you were three quarters across the track, if I didn’t I’d have cleaned you out! Next time I’ll smash you from the inside and we’ll see what happens.”
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.
It's early in the 2017 WorldSBK season but already plenty of people are crowning Jonathan Rea as a three time champion. To anyone thinking that with 22 races remaining that the championship has been sewn up, it would be wise not to count any chickens just yet.
Rea has most certainly been the class of the field so far in Australia and Thailand but they are two tracks that the Kawasaki rider had been heavily favored to win at. Phillip Island is a wide open race to open the year but Rea has traditionally been a force at the Australian circuit. Likewise in three years of visiting Thailand he has won five races. There's a lot that can be taken from the opening three rounds of the year but it will take a couple of European rounds before a clear picture truly emerges.
Jonathan Rea claimed a dominant victory at the Chang International Circuit, the reigning world champion setting a searing pace en route to his third victory in a row. When he arrived in Parc Ferme after Race 1 the Northern Irishman's emotions were clear for all to see as he celebrated his 41st WorldSBK victory.
“I felt really good and quite calm, my guys gave me a really good bike again and that was my plan,” said Rea. “We had a really good pace but Chaz also had a very fast pace, as did Marco, so I had to ride away into T1 to make the holeshot, I wanted to get my head down in T1 and I did it. I managed to get a good gap and then built up a rhythm, I was just doing my job and it was enough to win, so I’m really happy. Last year there was a big fight between me, Tom and Chaz but the bike’s improved a lot since last year, so I’m really happy with that.
Can we just have every race at Phillip Island? That's certainly what a lot of fans will be thinking after a thrilling opening weekend of WorldSBK action. The tension that has simmered between Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies over the winter came to the fore over the weekend and once again it these two riders fighting it out for wins.
Jonathan Rea had a fight on his hands for both wins in Australia but the reigning WorldSBK champion did enough to continue his domination of Phillip Island. In claiming his fifth win in the last three years at the Australian circuit the Northern Irishman also became just the fourth rider in history to win 40 WorldSBK races.
The second race of the WorldSBK season saw history made with the introduction of the much-touted revised grid that saw the podium men from Race 1 start from the third row.
This meant that Jonathan Rea, Chaz Davies and Tom Sykes had to fight through the field during the 22 lap affair. It proved little challenge for Rea and Davies to hit the front but ultimately Sykes lost too much time making progress and abused his tires trying to bridge the gap to the leading group.