2017 left a mark on Davies but he's keen to get back on the bike and get back to work
Defeat leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of any world class athlete and Chaz Davies is no different. The Welshman has been the foil to Jonathan Rea's title winning campaigns in recent years, but having come off second best he knows that the margins between winning and losing are remarkably fine.
A split second decision can change anything and everything has consequences. For Davies, there are moments that he'd like to have back from throughout the season, but he also admitted that “we were second best for a reason in 2017 and with or without our mistakes it wouldn't have been enough to beat Johnny.”
One of those moments was crashing out of a safe second position in Portimao. The loss of those 20 points would eventually be inconsequential for the championship but they certainly left a mark for Davies.
“This season was a mixed bag for us but the crash in Portugal is the biggest negative moment that stands out in my mind. Crashing out like that is something that I've never done before. I felt like I was riding on egg shells that day and even though I was taking it easy I still crashed. We figured out why that happened, though, and made a step to improve the feeling a lot. That was probably the standout moment, but Misano was the worst weekend with the crash in Race 1.”
The Misano crash left Davies in hospital nursing a fractured vertebra, but the pain of not racing was even worse. Having crashed out of the lead on the last lap while leading, the pain of losing was almost as bad the pain from his injury. Speaking to him as riders took the grid the next day his resolve and determination were clear.
Highs and lows
Two weeks later under blue Californian skies he claimed the victory that could be a defining moment for the coming season; write Davies off at your peril. Having been unable to do anything more strenuous than sitting on a couch and playing with his dog for ten days he flew to California with no real expectations.
The goal was to see how his back held up to the ordeal of Laguna Seca. On a race track that offers no respite for a rider, Davies was flawless in Race 1 and claimed the victory in what he said was arguably the best ride of his career. To fight through the pain barrier and come out on top proved his ability to dig deep and win with his back against the wall.
It was another reminder that when everything is equal he can be as unbeatable as Rea. The problem for Davies in recent years has been that he has consistently been on the back foot at the start of the season and playing catchup.
“I feel that I had to take some risks at times to make it work, and crashes can be a consequence of that. I've no regrets though about what's happened, but it would be nice to have that bit of a buffer like what Johnny has had. When you look at the start of the season, Buriram is definitely a strong track for Johnny but he's beatable at Philip Island.
“We've raced him close there the last two years. In Buriram they're strong but we've struggled there with power loss in the heat. We've made some progress with that though but it's definitely not ideal to feel that you're on the back foot when you leave Thailand. Those five points keep mounting up and it does make it difficult. Our goal is to make sure that for next year we're closer to them and can fight in those opening races.”
New rules, little impact
For 2018 WorldSBK will see one of the biggest technical shake-ups in the history of the championship but this year saw one of the biggest sporting shake-ups. The introduction of the Race 2 grid shuffle, where the podium finishers start on the third row of the grid, was met with mixed feelings from the riders but for Davies the extra challenge didn't change much.
“It didn't really change much because the same guys still won the races. The first lap of any race is hard to prepare for because it's so unpredictable; someone will get bumped or make a mistake. You have to take the opening lap as it comes. It's harder to prepare for Race 2 but it's the same for everyone.
“Sometimes being aggressive helps, but other times you have to be calmer rather than trying to force the overtaking moves. In Donington, Assen and Laguna it probably worked against me to have the shuffle, because once I got through the pack I had the same pace as Johnny but I was three or four seconds behind him. I didn't have any more pace than him but he could get through the pack quicker and it meant that we couldn't have a fight to the last lap. Overall though it's made no difference in results throughout the season. We've still had some good battles with it all.
“Johnny has made the most of it in Race 2 but I really feel that the rider makes more of a difference in the opening lap than the bike. Johnny has had the benefit of having a points gap and being able to take more risks. I don't think that it's hurt us to go to the third row, but I think that the situation of where you're at the in season has affected us. If it's in Race 2 and you need points you maybe don't take the risks because the penalty is quite high whereas if you've got a points cushion you can be more aggressive.”
The 2017 season ended for Davies with a hefty crash at the Jerez test. It was the latest in a series of incidents that left their mark on the Welshman but he'll be keen to bounce back in 2018 and leave his mark on WorldSBK.
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