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WorldSBK Phillip Island: ‘Nervous race’ to second for Rea

Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea was forced to settle for second on Saturday as wet weather and technical gremlins struck WorldSBK at Phillip Island. 

With Rea out and on his own at the front early in Race One, maybe he had a plan to undo the hoodoo that Alvaro Bautista has had in terms of race pace from testing. Toprak Razgatlioglu had beaten Bautista in Superpole, so in the wet weather conditions that Rea excels in, maybe Race One would be Rea’s?

Unfortunately for him, although his early pace was enough for the lead for nine laps, Bautista passed audaciously and then moved away to win by over three seconds. “I was pretty convinced to make a wet set-up bike,” said Rea just after the opening race action of 2023. “I felt comfortable straightaway. Made a great start. We just changed something for the race after my last practice start to help me at the end of first gear to not have too much wheelie.


“I felt good straightaway. Just put my head down, then ran into a few issues with my shifter and I had to sort of re-learn how to ride the bike again.

“But when Alvaro came past, I could see I was better in some areas but he was better in others,” Rea continued. “I was trying to learn and adapt. It was difficult, especially off the gas on the edge of the tyre with negative torque on the bike because it was so easy just to be at full angle and lose the rear. Everything feels good, good, good. You’ve got traction and then all of a sudden the rear lets go.

“The harder I pushed, the more issues I had. The problem is when you see him [Bautista] going away and maybe Toprak, the gap coming down or going away, you’re trying and you’re trying, and then you have these issues. So it was like a nervous race. The conditions weren’t as grippy as it was in November.

“The target was podium. Got a bag full of points, but of course on the grid in them conditions, I felt like it could be for us but just not today.”

Rea’s gearshifting problems had some obvious negative results, and with his clutch lever in an artificially high position - normally used for starts only - this made for some contortions to help him change gear.

“For example, you can’t [just] shift. You have to go off the gas to shift up and down. The disaster was my clutch lever is here [high above his back brake lever on the left-hand handlebar] from my start, because my rear brake is here [lower]. So even on engine brake, I couldn’t use the clutch to back-shift. So I was like full ‘chicken winging’ it [clutch and throttle] going into corners. As soon as it happened I thought, ‘Fuck me. How am I going to finish this race?’ Then in just a few laps I understood how to ride. It wasn’t the most beautiful, but I nursed around.

“Luckily the gap to Toprak wasn’t decreasing fast, so I could also take my time a little bit in the areas that it was tough. Shifting from second, third, fourth up towards the Hayshed was really hard because the rear was spinning coming out of two and the same towards turn three. That was really hard. On the long straight, I was just getting mullered because even with Alvaro on the rocket, with no quick shifter, I was losing even more time. So, it was just one of them things but I was enjoying it because it was different.

“I couldn’t be too mad with the guys. That’s the first technical we’ve had for quite some time, so I enjoyed it. It kept me busy. Normally those races can feel so long but for me it was so busy every corner. It was alright.”

Did Rea expect Bautista to be so strong in the wet? The answer was obvious for him. “Yeah, I remember in Misano one year I did a really good race in the wet and he was right there after half distance. We understand Pirelli now. He’s strong everywhere. So certainly, I knew he was going to be there. He had some moments, though. I could see that he was pushing. He was almost down at T8 one time. He’s a fast guy. He’s going to be there in every condition.”

It was a game of risk in Race One, and Rea had several moments, one in particular exiting MG hairpin, chasing Bautista. “I actually just got a bit greedy with the throttle there,” he explained. “Nothing really silly. I got caught out once at Lukey Heights, halfway around off-gas with angle in third gear so I started going back to second gear. I put a little bit more load in the engine and then the engine brake was working much more consistently. But when you’re sailing into them corners with negative torque not loading the engine, then you’re in no-man’s land and you’ve got no feeling, that’s when I struggled a little bit. The gearing for the track, really we should have compromised and gone with a much shorter gear box. You can’t do that for the wet, to make you use the same gears but I was using such different gears in each corner compared to a dry lap.”

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