Jonathan Rea

Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Are We Done Already?

We have never seen anything quite like the arrival of Alvaro Bautista and his big red rocket of a Ducati Panigale V4R in WorldSBK history. Well, we kinda have, in the form of Doug Polen on that year’s ballistic desmo missile back in 1991. Just not quite as dominantly in only two rounds, as Polen won five from six, after a retirement in race two at Donington.

Whatever the comparison, ex-GP runner Bautista has entered WorldSBK at Star Trek levels of spacetime continuums by winning the first six races of the 2019 season, his first ever races in WorldSBK. The fact that there are three races per meeting now, not two, only slightly detracts from the glorious arrival of the new class act - stage left, right and centre.

Really, can you pick holes in the fabric of Ducati’s Alvaro effort so far?

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Jonathan Rea Interview: "I'm motivated by the fear of losing"

Jonathan Rea may have been beaten in Australia but he's ready to come out swinging in Thailand

The opening round of the 2019 WorldSBK season saw Alvaro Bautista dominate proceedings, and for many it seemed as though there was a changing of the guard in the championship. After four years of unparalleled dominance, Jonathan Rea was spectacularly put in his place by the Spanish MotoGP refugee. It was stunning and cathartic for a championship that has seen Rea rewrite the history books.

It was easy to read the tea leaves leaving Australia that Rea is going to face his toughest yet in 2019. Unfortunately for his rivals, we also left Australia 12 months ago with Rea scratching his head after a difficult weekend, even further adrift of the championship leader. That season ended with the most dominant campaign in WorldSBK history.

Australia was a weekend full of challenges. From the two day test prior to the race weekend, it was clear that Rea was struggling. He couldn't find a balance with the bike and he kept his powder dry on the second day. Not willing to use a new tire and try and set a fast time, he also didn't undertake his usual race simulations. It was clear Rea was on the ropes for Round One.

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2019 Phillip Island WorldSBK Round Up: Wizard of Oz? Definitely. Wizard of WorldSBK? Not Yet

MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?

When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.

He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.

You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.

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Jonathan Rea Interview: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Jonathan Rea has gotten the band back together in his attempt to win an unprecedented fifth WorldSBK title in 2019

You’re the man to beat until someone beats you, and Jonathan Rea is doing all he can to make sure his time at the top continues. While the four-time WorldSBK champion might reset his points at the start of every season, he doesn’t reset the core group of people around him. Crew chief Pere Riba, electronics specialist Davide Gentile, and mechanics Uri Pallares and Arturo Perez are all back together for a fifth season.

The goal remains the same for Rea in 2019: winning. But after rewriting the record books where does the motivation come from for the Northern Irishman? At the start of his Kawasaki tenure the motivation was clear – win a first title. Since than it’s been about staying on top and then the fear of losing was a force last year. For 2019 Rea seems relaxed and the motivation seems to be coming from a less cluttered life.

“My motivation hasn’t really changed,” said Rea. “I want to stay at the top. At one point last year I did panic that maybe my time was running out, but this year I feel like I can ride into the wave again and keep it going. When I found the right feeling with the bike last year I felt invincible. It wouldn’t have mattered if you brought a MotoGP bike to the track with the best rider in the world. I felt like I’d go out there and win.

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2019 WorldSBK Testing Round Up: Panigale A Work In Progress, Rea Dominant, Lowes One To Watch

Testing paints a picture but it’s never a complete one. It shows only what the artist wants you to see with their work in progress. The winter is a time to work through your program and do it at your own pace. This year that has been even more the case. With new bikes for Ducati and BMW there is plenty of change in the air of the World Superbike paddock, and after eight days of testing there are arguably more questions than answers.

The Ducati V4R was billed as the weapon to finally end Jonathan Rea’s dominance of WorldSBK. It was a MotoGP-derived bike that didn’t pull punches. It was one that broke cover over 12 months before its competitive debut. It was expected to be a honed creation from the outset. It was expected to be seamless. But instead, Ducati’s introduction of their new machine has run aground this winter.

Circumstances have worked against Ducati. Four days of testing in November were ruined by bad weather in Aragon, and then a bad track surface at Jerez that would need to be replaced. With a brand new surface at Jerez, it was dirty for the opening test of 2019. It took time to clean and it was almost impossible for riders to do long distance stints without excessive tire wear. Coming to Portimao it was hoped that Ducati could get some information on the new bike.

Hampering progress

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2018 Jerez WorldSBK Test Tuesday Round Up: Rea Still Reigns, Ducati Makes Progress, Yamaha's Small Steps With The Rear

And so the season ends for WorldSBK. The weather finally behaved at Jerez, and the four WorldSBK teams and three WorldSSP teams got a full day of testing in at Jerez. Or rather, nearly a full day of testing: the track opened at 10am, but the riders didn't go out for about 45 minutes, as cold track temperatures made it a perilous undertaking in those early minutes. But the sun soon did its work, heated the asphalt, and away they went.

Heating the asphalt meant there was grip, but the surface is still in a bad way in several corners. Turns 1, 2, 6, and 8 are the worst, according to the riders. One seasoned rider spotter pointed out just how gracefully Jonathan Rea was riding around the holes in the tarmac, and still producing a really fast time. But it hadn't been as easy as Rea made it look.

"It’s wearing ruts in the short corners where everyone is using the same line and putting the power down, or pushing the front in it," Rea said on Tuesday night. "It’s lifting the asphalt up. It’s treacherous if you run over that. That’s the common racing line for track day users or normal racers. If you’re on the limit or really sharp you can stay just inside that, like pretty much on the white line. But even that, you compromise your line, especially in corner one, two, six… So the track’s in really bad condition so they’re doing right to resurface it."

Smoother on top

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2018 Jerez WorldSBK Test Monday Notes: Ducati's V4, Yamaha's Need For Speed, And Kawasaki As Fast As Ever

Three factories and eight WorldSBK riders turned up at Jerez on Monday, Ducati bringing their brand new Panigale V4R, but at the end, Jonathan Rea was fastest. Plus ça change.

All eyes were on the Ducati garage, and Alvaro Bautista's first day on the Panigale V4R. "First day at school" was how the Spaniard characterized it, taking some time to adapt to the bike. It was quite a switch from the Desmosedici he had been riding in MotoGP, the bike having a lot less power. But the V4 engine still has plenty, rival teams complaining that the Ducati was 10km/h faster than the others at the Aragon test. Here, the difference was less, but the Panigale was still clearly quicker than the rivals. 

The bike reminded him more of a 250, Bautista said, needing corner speed to get more out of it. Aruba.it Ducati teammate Chaz Davies joked that it might have reminded Bautista of his 250, but that bike was very different to the 250 Davies rode when he was in the class. But overall, Bautista's adaptation went well, the Spaniard trying two qualifying tires as it was the first time he had had a chance to ride qualifiers. He needed one set to figure out the potential of the tires, and a second set to attempt to set a time on the tires. His time was good enough for second place, three tenths behind Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki, and a couple of tenths ahead of his teammate Chaz Davies.

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2018 Portimao WorldSBK: What We Learned In Portugal

Jonathan Rea may have had a third consecutive double at the Portuguese round of WorldSBK but that's not to say there wasn't plenty of action and intrigue as WorldSBK resumed following the summer break.

Rea gets creative

Jonathan Rea came away from Portimao with another 50 points and moved ever closer to a historic fourth consecutive title. The Northern Irishman has enjoyed another stellar campaign and has won 12 races already this year. He'll be out to wrap up the crown in two weeks time in France and knows that following his Portimao double, he has one hand on the crown.

“I can't quite believe what's happening right now,” said Rea afterwards. “We knew after coming to the test that we'd be strong, so we kept the bike the same as at the test. I had really good pace to catch Chaz, but he was braking like an animal and I knew that I'd have to be creative to overtake him. I made the move at Turn 10 and it stuck, after that I tried to control the race. I know that my target is to win the title in Magny-Cours because I know that at this point, it's my championship to lose.”

With 116 points in hand over Davies, the title can be secured following Race 1 in France.

Davies digs deep

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Pata Yamaha Extend With Lowes And Van Der Mark - WorldSBK Silly Season Set To Kick Off

The WorldSBK series may be on its summer hiatus, but there is still plenty of news going on. After the official announcement that Tom Sykes would not be back with the KRT Kawasaki team, it is the turn of the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad to make announcements. Today, the team issued a statement saying that current riders Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes will remain with the team for the 2019 season.

Though the announcement did not come as a surprise, it does close the door to Tom Sykes, who had been linked to a possible ride with Pata Yamaha, had either Van der Mark or Lowes moved to the Kawasaki team to replace him. But with Leon Haslam set to take the second seat next to Jonathan Rea, Sykes will have to look elsewhere.

These are the first signs that WorldSBK's silly season is about to accelerate over the summer. There are still a lot of open questions left in the WorldSBK series, and a lot of open seats. Complicating issues is the fact that there could be an influx of riders from the MotoGP series now that rides are all tied up in that championship. 

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2018 Laguna Seca WorldSBK Notes - The Wild, Wild West of WorldSBK

The American Frontier was about finding a way to survive. To do this, people from all over the world had to work together and find a way to coexist on the open plains and in the mountains. They did this because they knew the rewards could be massive. Unimaginable wealth lay beneath the rivers and mountains of the West Coast, and everyone believed they would find it.

Every racer in the world also believes that the trophies and points are at their fingertips once they have the tools at their disposal. Finding a way to work with a group of people from all over the world and making them believe in you is crucial. The American Dream was founded on the ideal that anything was possible and the Racer's Dream is based on the belief that you're the best in the world and any issues you're having are just a temporary delay of the inevitable.

At Laguna Seca we had proof once again that the Racer's Dream is real. Jonathan Rea was a highly regarded rider prior to moving to Kawasaki in 2015 but since then he has been all but unbeatable. On Sunday he claimed his 62nd WorldSBK and fourth victory at the American venue. The success that the Northern Irishman has enjoyed has been unprecedented but, at least for Rea, was the gold he'd been seeking in a river bed.

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