If it was a tough day for Jonathan Rea to lead half the race in determined front running form and then finish only fourth, it was made a bit less sour by the fact that he moved into the championship lead after points leader and championship rival Toprak Razgatlioglu no scored.
Fourth and 13 points put Rea into a six point lead over Razgatlioglu with one more day to go, but the Northern Irishman’s less than perfect set-up for the slowly drying conditions ended a home race win for his KRT squad on Saturday.
Everybody had some degree of suck-it-and-see wet set-up on their bikes, even Rea and many other top riders. All had no option of rear wet, as Pirelli brought one option front and rear to this particular round.
“A very tough race, especially them conditions when it comes on you like 10 minutes before the race start, and you know you haven’t rode here in the wet,” said Rea. “You get a little bit nervous. Also about setup, what’s the right setup direction to go? I feel that we just got that a little bit wrong. We went full wet in the rear, like a full wet setup. There was no standing water. The track was just wet. After three, four laps, the rain stopped. So, when the temperature of the tyres came up, I was really struggling because we weren’t putting weight on the tyre, so coming from the exit of the corners, it was just sitting on the tyre and spinning. The rear was much too soft.
“On the brakes, I felt quite good. So, in the beginning when it was fully wet, I felt great. I got a horrendous start, but I could lead the first lap, passing a lot of riders. So, I was thinking, such a long race. The laps were going down so slow. I was thinking, ‘maybe they’re struggling as well. Just keep the rhythm, keep the rhythm’. When Toprak and Bassani came past, I could see that they just had much more traction on the exits. I was already taking a lot of risk to be there, so it was one of the hardest-fought fourth places of the season, because the bike was just moving a lot. I wasn’t at one with the bike in the last half of the race.”
Rea had finally lost his run of Superpole perfect this season, as Tom Sykes extended his record to 51 career Superpole ‘wins’ making Rea’s next target a little harder again.
Rea was almost sanguine about it, knowing his record of eight Superpoles in succession is still intact. “That’s all right, it’s still a record,” grinned Rea. “It is what it is. Even for the Superpole, we changed the bike quite drastically. So, I wasn’t fully committed to the laps. I wasn’t fully comfortable. I went out for a sighting lap and an in lap just to check that feeling. So, it wasn’t the best superpole for me, but it doesn’t matter.”
Rea was not initially aware that Razgatlioglu had no scored but he saw him signalling on track, on his white and red anniversary special painted bike. “I seen him put his hand or something. I didn’t know if he missed a gear or if he was actually out. The next lap I came around and couldn’t see a bike, so I didn’t know if he was in the race or not until after. I was fully concentrated on what I was doing, really. That was hard enough because one lapse in concentration in the wet and you can easily be on the ground. So, unfortunate for them. Maybe we could have capitalised better, but that’s how it was. My race was how it was. Move on to tomorrow.”
Rea explained that a full wet set-up for his Kawasaki would involved more time than they had to hand once the rains started. “For example, with our bike, our full wet setup is changing springs, changing rear shock, full wet also we tune some items in the engine. Linkage. Today, the perfect setup was more dry than wet, and we were more wet. So, especially in the rear of our bike, it was very soft. When I say a full wet setup, it’s when there’s puddles on the track and it’s raining constantly during the race. Like an Assen or Donington weekend or Magny-Cours - where we seen last year in Magny-Cours where I won two races pretty convincingly, and then the last race the sun came out and there was no water on the track and I struggled. I had no traction at T5. I finished third. So, it really depends on the weather that comes. You have to be lucky, but you have to be clever as well. The Supersport race is such a lucky race because anything can happen. The clouds can just come and put a lot of water, or it can dry rapidly. You never know. That’s why these conditions aren’t great. It’s always better for riders to ride in the dry, because it’s more consistent. There’s less variables, and the results, normally the fastest guy and the guy that’s worked best during the weekend.”
Rea is hoping for dry conditions on Sunday, of course.
“We made a good step with our bike this morning,” he said of Saturday’s practice. “Between FP3 and Superpole, I felt much better with the bike. Back to how I was riding at the test, a little bit. So, that’s going to look after the tyre a little bit better. Yesterday when I made a race simulation everything was going okay, but the last five laps are quite critical. So, I think we’ve improved that area. I think everyone is going to be in the same situation tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough race. It looks like the weather is going to be dry, so let’s see.”