Even with Jonathan Rea breathing down his neck on the factory Kawasaki, from his WorldSBK pole position starting place no less, Michael Rinaldi was the ultimate Saturday King of Misano, as he won the first race by almost four seconds while slowing up.
And the pressure of leading out front, on a Ducati, in Italy with some fans around… he bore that well, and it was Rea who so nearly crashed, leaving Rinaldi to win from second place man Toprak Razgatlioglu and then Rea.
Said, Rinaldi, who had been under pressure from the minute he joined Ducati, “I’m really happy because it’s my home race, at a difficult track of the season. Already people start talking, bashing me on social media or the media as well. But I say to myself, ‘people criticise Rossi, people criticise Marquez. Who I am to don’t have some critics?’ So I just try to keep my focus. I know we could make a good day here because in the straight we worked good and I like the track. So, really happy. I need to metabolize this situation. I wish nothing better, sincerely now.”
It must have been a surprise not to see Rea coming for him, Rinaldi was asked? “I tried to do my best, but when he was on 0.2, 0.3, I said, ‘I need to push because if I push, he’ll make a mistake maybe and I don’t have to fight with him at the last lap.’ On the last lap he’s so hard to battle with, Johnny. So I tried to use a good strategy and it worked. They told me he saved impossible things, but he is a great talent. So, congratulations to him and to Toprak. I was really strong at the beginning, but I need to do my pace and I find a little space, I try. I say, I need to go for it.”
It was not quite the perfect race for Rinaldi but his second career Superbike race, and his first in official Ducati colours, was almost an ideal culmination to the first race of his home weekend.
“Perfect doesn’t exist,” stated Rinaldi. “We were close to great feeling. We need, I think, for tomorrow a little bit more at the end of the race, but is not so bad. I think we have a really good team, really good bike and we made a great job today.”
Compared to his breakout win in Aragon last season, in slightly strange conditions, this one was a ‘proper’ win, against all the best all-comers there are in Superbike right now,
“It’s a completely different win because when you have this suit, you must win,” said Rinaldi, pointing at his official Ducati Alpine Stars leathers. “So, for sure it’s good. For sure it’s great, but it’s a normal thing. So we need to make everything special to make normal things. I want to tell you something. I do the flight back to Estoril with the electronics guy of Johnny. We started speaking and I said, I want to win when Johnny is in the track, because he is so fast and if you win without Johnny, it’s not that good. So it’s also good to arrive first when Johnny’s on the track.”
All of this was said with Rea within earshot, with the odd bit of chat between them during some questions.
Sincerely it helps me to stay in the zone. I really perform better when I’m under pressure. When I have no pressure I need to find something to focus on. So the last nine laps, I said, ‘I will not think about anything, just push but 90 per cent because I had four seconds.’ But it was so difficult mentally the last nine laps.”
Last season there was some fierce debate about Ducati dropping Chaz Davies for Rinaldi in the official set-up but when asked about how much it was a relief to win, to prove he was the right choice for Ducati, Rinaldi said, “I think to push at the limit and do my best. If today I finished fifth but I look in the mirror and I say, this is the best I can do, I’m happy with myself for sure. People will not be happy about this, but I will always try to be happy myself first.
"So when you are okay with yourself and you follow your goals, your dreams, it’s okay. Also in the bad races, no one believes in you like you believe in you because it’s your dream. It’s not everybody else’s dream. So you need to keep this motivation also in that time, and then wait for the good times but the bad times are more than the good times. So it is like this. But just happy to win here at home.”
Rinaldi was seen on the phone to someone after his race win but it wasn’t his family - it was one of his bosses’ family members… because it was true Ducati big boss Claudio Domenicali’s phone, not Rinaldi’s. “I didn’t check the (my) phone yet. After the podium I came here. The son of Domenicali said congratulations. We are friends.”
Ducati also may have a reason to congratulate themselves for their ‘second rider’ choice for 2021, because so far Rinaldi is making a strong recovery from a tough opener in Aragon and being knocked off his bike in Race two in Estoril.
Two more races on Sunday, with more fans with airhorns blasting him down the short straights at Misano…