Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea left Navarra sharing the WorldSBK Championship lead despite scoring a trio of podiums at the Spanish track’s debut weekend.
The close and combative nature of the 2021 title-fight was encapsulated perfectly at Los Arcos as three different riders, on three different bikes, took turns to race on top from corner to closely contested corner, as they have done over the past few races.
Ducati’s Scott Redding was in a clear ascendancy with two victories this weekend, Toprak Razgatlioglu the standout winner of the final race. The rider who slipped back was Rea, who lost his narrow championship lead and now shares top billing with Razgatlioglu.
Rea’s race two was ultimately rewarded with a third place, not second, after nearly falling a few times pushing to get to Razgatlioglu, and then defend against Redding, but it was actually a better race weekend than he feared. And even better than Saturday.
“I had a little bit more margin today, actually,” said Rea. “I felt like the Superpole race I could really get stuck in and fight for it today. I had a little bit more margin than I did yesterday.
“Toprak made a huge step. He is very fast. The rhythm was faster than yesterday’s race. For 10 laps I was fighting, fighting, fighting. I thought, ‘just wait for him to drop off’, and he never really did. I started losing front feeling, a lot of front slides. It was time for me then to consolidate.
“I had a big moment in the last corner. I hit something on the track, like an object, a big screw or something like that, just go offline. That made the front bobble and then I caught the slide. Then I had another slide in 13. So, just one of them. Tough weekend.
“It wasn’t perfect for everybody. Everyone was slipping and sliding around. It penalised us a little bit more. Solid. I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t confident coming here, let’s say, so to come away with what we did, not lost too many points in the championship. We came here with three and now we go away with zero, so it could have been much worse for us. Move on to Magny-Cours.”
Rea’s 2021 championship seems to be shaping up differently from any other, with two main rivals, but he does not see it that way.
“Not really, I think each round will be strong for somebody“ said Rea. “ We’ve gone seven rounds now. We’ve got six to go. It’s like level points, so it shows that nobody is really great and dominating. So, just be open-minded. I made a few mistakes this season, threw away a lot of points, but I feel like there’ll be circuits coming now that suit us, that suit Ducati, that suit Yamaha.
“I feel like it’s the best I’ve ever ridden. I’m riding on my margin of error so, so small. Shows how fast and how hard the others are going as well just to be there.”
Next up Magny Cours, where Rea has form, like most other places. “Our bike is very good on the change of direction, very stable,” said Rea. “We lost a lot here in the long straight because we accelerate from first gear. I think Magny-Cours, when you’re coming from turn three, this long, third-gear corner, Barcelona third-gear, Portimao… All these long corners onto the straight are going to suit us a little bit better than this one, where it’s just a stop.
“I feel like in Estoril, for example, we didn’t lose so much because we could carry our speed onto the straight. The first-gear corners really penalised us and highlighted our weakness here. So, something to work on over the off-season.”
Rea is not talking about any change in the balance rules, even thought it was brought up on social media by some people on Saturday when the Ducati could just blow past him.
“I don’t want to say anything because anything I say gets misconstrued as moaning. Championship is great from a points point of view, but people can see from the racing how it is. It’s not like Scott is… Alvaro is 59 kilos. He’s an 80-kilo bloke and he’s still going pretty fast. It is what it is. Ducati has done a really good job in that area. Our bike is better in some areas, too. It’s just a bit frustrating when you put all the lap together. For example, the superpole race highlighted it. I was really putting the lap together and came to the straight and I had no weapon to fight, if you like.”
When it was jokily put to Rea that he may have to fight with Bautista on a Ducati again in 2022 (an apparent certainty now), he laughed and said, “I’d much prefer to fight with Scott on that than him. On the straight, anyway!”
Rea 311 points, Razgatlioglu 311 points, Redding now just 38 points behind with six rounds left. There will be plenty of fighting in 2021 before anybody worries about 2022, and who will finally ride where.