Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea is predicting another tough battle as WorldSBK gears up for the 2023 season opener at Phillip Island.
With pre-season testing in the bag, and another top four finish from the Northern Irishman after 97 laps on Tuesday concluded with a personal best of 1’30.716, Rea knows the man at the top is the one to beat once again as the action awaits in Australia.
“I think we can fight for the podium,” Rea confirmed of his round one prospects. “I really feel like we can be in the best of the rest fight.
“I think Alvaro is clearly in a different league. He’s gonna be in a different race already.
“He has such an advantage here. He’s doing a really good job. He’s riding the bike well, bike’s working well and he’s clearly at one but I think we can be fighting for the best of the rest.
“Our bikes were quite different today,” he said of his final day’s testing schedule. “We were trying a ‘22 bike versus a ‘23 bike in the afternoon and there’s positives and negatives of both but I prefer to stick with a ’23. Unfortunately was when I was doing a race simulation, at lap 14 I got caught out in T4. It was very gusty and it’s coming strong from the back, from the sea. And just on my limit as well. I was pushing, clearly. A very slow crash, quite different to yesterday - I was quite a way round the corner as I started to release the brake.
“But really positive sensations during that run. I was able to, after 13/14 laps, to stay in ‘31’s which for me was where I need to be to fight for the podium. Then after that, we evaluated the SC0 rear tyre. Pirelli asked me to make a longer run to understand for the Superpole race how that tyre performs and again, the tyre performance is good.
“From an electronic point of view, I’m really happy with the steps we’ve made inside the team,” Rea continued after a switch of staff over the winter. “Things are working good. The bike’s behaving more calm than normal. Just in the bumpy sections I’m struggling quite a lot, in sector three up through the Hayshed [turns] seven/eight/nine, so it’s something to work on. I need to make more weight transfer to the front to get to the Hayshed, I’m just a bit of a passenger through there at the minute. The bike’s always in delay when I’m changing direction so that’s a main focus for Friday to work on.
“It’s just like a jigsaw, I’m just putting all the pieces together,” he admitted on the 2023-spec Ninja. “Clearly there’s potential with the new bike and we have to keep working to extract all the potential. It’s the same if it was last year’s bike, you know, you always turn up on a Monday and go faster, always find something, so step by step we’ll understand this bike more.”
While he may not be as dominant in the timesheets as was the case in previous years, the determination of the six-time champion has far from diminished heading into his ninth season in green.
“I’m satisfied where we are now, because we’ve made a step compared to last year in the winter time,” Rea confirmed. “Electronics, acceleration, tyre consumption, we’ve made a step I feel but everybody else has made a step. Everyone moves forward and we need more! We just can’t make a new bike, the changes for ‘23 are so subtle.
“I need power. A lot of power! I’m racing with a guy that’s potentially 15 kilos lighter than me with a bike with so much power.
“Last year, we’re gonna have the same story. To be on the limit every single corner, every single lap, just to get to lose so much time in the straight, is the same. We can’t magically fix this. Of course, we need to improve, we need a much faster engine, because the deficit we have in the straight and the acceleration is too much, it’s the same story, but we have improved. So I’m thankful, I’m grateful for the efforts they’ve made because with these regulations and production companies making homologation bikes and mass production, is so difficult to improve.”