IMPORTANT PORTIMAO TEST NEXT UP FOR KRT’s WorldSBK TEAM

KRT’s WorldSBK pairing of Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes are eager to get back into testing action at the undulating Autódromo Internacional do Algarve for a two-day track session on 8 and 9 February.  Here’s what KRT have to say:

Alex Lowes Picture courtesy of KRT Provec Racing

After two winter tests at the Spanish circuit of Jerez, utilising new parts and settings for the 2022 Ninja ZX-10RR, the forthcoming on-track action in Portugal will be useful to make comparisons with all the data gathered so far at a very different circuit design.

After posting some astounding lap times, despite only riding for half a day in the previous Jerez test in January, six times world champion Rea has already demonstrated his sheer pace on the 2022 Ninja ZX-10RR. He also had the opportunity to complete a long run on which delivered pleasing results and valuable information to his team; information which has already been fed back to the KMC engineers in Japan.

Lowes has been working hard on his physical conditioning after a 2021 season affected by injury throughout. Like Rea, he has also found the two post-2021 season winter tests held so far confidence-building and useful in terms of settling on a final direction for race set-up in 2022.

The 4.592km long Algarve circuit – commonly know as Portimao – is a very popular testing and racing venue and features some of the most dramatic changes of incline and highest numbers of blind corner entries of any circuit on the WorldSBK calendar. It is scheduled as the ninth round of the forthcoming season, between 7-9 October.

After this Portimao test the team should have all the data in requires to make any adjustments and improvements before the next KRT test at Montmelo in Catalunya on March 25 and 26.

Jonathan Rea Picture courtesy of KRT Provec Racing

STATEMENTS:

Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “It is nice to get back on the bike, especially at Portimao, which a track I enjoy. After our shakedown test recently in Jerez our biggest target is to reconfirm the positive items we have tested during December and January. That will give us good info, because if we can confirm these items at a couple of circuits, it means we are on the right way. The idea is just to keep building the package. I feel we have definitely improved the bike since last year. I was able to make a long run in Jerez and we found some positives with the bike and my riding style, so it is important to try and maybe focus on getting some information on how the tyres behave and the new items after many laps. Hopefully the weather is consistent and we can continue to build the package to start the season. There will also be more bikes on track at Portimao and a lot of the key manufacturers will be there testing. This is the first real test where everyone is together – which is always nice to draw some comparisons.”

Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “The recent Jerez test for me was very much a technical test, ticking off new parts. My crew chief Marcel is very technical so I had new stuff to try – just trying to analyse what is definitely better. Portimao is a track that I have always had a good feeling with on the Kawasaki and we have a good base set-up with our 2021 bike. So, to compare new parts will be quite good, because we already have a good feeling. If we can improve that with the new stuff then it should set us up well for the year. Trying stuff at two different tracks means that if it is positive at both tracks then you are a lot more confident committing to that base set-up going into a new season. It is going to be a busy test! I would like to ride as much as possible just to get back into it. I have been working really hard on my physical condition since the end of the season. That has been the biggest focus of mine because I know if I am going to be healthy it is going to make the biggest difference, no matter what changes we make on the bike. We will make a plan with Marcel in terms of how many days we are going to ride. After this test we have a big break so we are really going to have to be clear with the feedback to all the guys in Japan, and to all the engineers within the teams, so we can work hard in the break before the Montmelo test at the end of March. Portimao will be an important test and I am looking forward to getting out and seeing where we are compared to a few of our rivals.”

Guim Roda (KRT Team Manager): “Initially we didn’t have a plan to test in Portimao, because we were considering to make a test in the middle of the year. But, because we had a few points to check on the bike, we would like to compare them on different tracks. Portimao and Jerez are quite different. Also, we have a gap of one month to keep working before the next Montmelo test, ten days before the first race of the year. So, we considered this opportunity at Portimao was a good point to test again. So we joined with Ducati, who had rented the track, to make this test. For us, this is a kind of continuation of the items we tested at Jerez, to double check and confirm the direction of the bike set-up and the performance of the items we have received so far. We will do this so that we can have the best possible bike set-up, in combination with the riders.”

Kawasaki Racing Team Press Release ahead of second winter test

JEREZ TEST AWAITS KAWASAKI RIDERS

At the beginning of a new calendar year the official Kawasaki Racing Team will take part in a second Spanish winter test, between 26 – 27 January, with regular WorldSBK pairing of Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes eager to get back into action.

Picture courtesy of Provec Racing

The second pre-season test in preparation for the 2022 FIM Superbike World Championship will take place at the 4.423km long Circuito de Jerez Angel Nieto.

Always a popular testing venue, Jerez hosted on-track session just a few weeks ago that allowed Alex and Jonathan to evaluate some new items and settings on their official Ninja ZX-10RR WorldSBK race machines.

The purpose of this forthcoming test is to evaluate all elements of machine performance after off-season developments have been carried out, largely based on feedback from the December tests.

Six times world champion Rea has the clear mission to regain his world champion status again after finishing runner up by just 13 points last year. Having come so close to a seventh championship win Rea is as motivated as ever to find the small margins that will help him to regain his crown in 2022.

For Lowes this next Jerez test is another chance to get his 2022 preparations underway in a consistent way. This is of particular importance after a 2021 campaign that was interrupted by injury, especially with so few gaps in the season long enough to let him recover fully between rounds.

The next KRT pre-season test after Jerez is scheduled for the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, between 8 – 9 February.

Picture courtesy of Provec Racing

STATEMENTS:

Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): “We have two days planned at Jerez. Depending on the weather forecast, the schedule and how we get on, we may choose to use one of them and save another for later in the year. We had a very productive test at Jerez at the end of last year, so it is always good to go back and draw comparisons. The guys back at the KRT workshop, and KMC, have had a chance to go over all that data and try to improve. We will understand the results in a few days. I have been at home, really recharging my batteries. I haven’t travelled at all since my last test so it has been really productive from a preparation point of view. I am feeling refreshed and now I’m looking forward to riding again and seeing the guys.”

Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team Rider): : “I am really excited to get back to work for 2022. I’ve taken a good rest over the holidays and enjoyed some time with the new family. Now I’m feeling fresh and ready to get back to it with ‘Team 22.’ I’m interested to test some of the new stuff Marcel, my crew chief, and the guys have been working on since our last test and start building up towards the new season.”

Guim Roda (KRT Team Manager): “The forthcoming Jerez test is the first track experience of the new year. After a long winter we all have a big motivation to start our engines and go into race mode. After last December’s test KMC has been working with the inputs we gave them. We have been polishing some points to check how competitive we can be compared to 2021. Alex has had time to recover quite well and Johnny is working more than ever to start stronger in the 2022 season. We need to define many small details that we need to make some upgrades on the final race package of the Ninja ZX-10RR in 2022. Let’s see how it goes at this test.”

Jonathan Rea – The Art of Psychological Racing

As the great Julian Ryder once said about racing at the highest level: “Talent will get you onto the stage, but winning is a matter between the ears”.

Jonathan Rea at Aragon 2020. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

It is quite possible that Jonathan Rea has modelled his WorldSBK career on that line, and then some.

In 2020, given all the uncertainty that has gone with it, this attribute was overlooked by TV broadcasters (and in the interests of outright entertainment of the viewers, perhaps rightly so). However, as the dust has now settled on the season, it is high time to salute this remarkable, and ruthless attribute in Jonathan Rea’s arsenal:

The ability to read and control the championship.

Whilst Rea’s detractors will often highlight his supposed lack of charisma, however they cannot criticise or belittle his ability to know exactly what is needed to be done on track in any given scenario.

Few have the ability and it is the preserve of only the greatest champions: think Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi or Carl Fogarty in the motorbike world – Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost from Formula 1. Jonathan Rea is the same.

They do not “see red” when a rival overtakes them. They do not panic and adopt a “win it or bin it” attitude. They can even accept that some days they will not be spraying the champagne on the podium.

That last one may come as a surprise to some, but it is true.

Michael van der Mark, Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes at Magny-Cours WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

Immediate glory on the track, these few know, pales in comparison to lifting the championship trophy at the end of the season. Their place in the standings is the only thing that matters.  It consoles them, when a race weekend heads south. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices when they give answers either on the grid or in the interviews in the build up to race day.  They are fixated on it. It’s the obsession which pushes them further than the others.

This ability has been showcased on multiple occasions throughout Rea’s career. Perhaps the most clear example came in 2019. Whilst all and sundry had written off his title chances, after Alvaro Bautista’s incredible run of 13 wins from the opening 16 races, Rea’s head never dropped. By ensuring that he constantly mopped up the next best places, he had put himself in prime position to catch Bautista as an when the Spaniard’s incredible run came to an end.

The patience and discipline shown in sticking to what needed to be done ensured that, despite Bautista’s early-season dominance, Rea was never more than a couple of victories away from taking the lead in the championship.  Once that happened, Rea hit the racers’ zenith. Such was the confidence in himself and his team, it was inevitable he’d hit his own ‘purple patch’

As has been the case for the past three seasons – Chaz Davies(left) is the only rider who can challenge Jonathan Rea (right) for the title.

In 2020, the championship battle required a different tactic. With the Kawasaki being more competitive at the start of the season, Rea was able to trade early-season victories with Scott Redding. Once his rival faltered and a gap in the standings had been established, Rea defaulted to prioritising scoring only as many points as he needed to keep Redding behind. He was content enough to let other riders go up the road, safe in the knowledge that his rival could not score sufficient points to make any meaningful inroads (if any at all) to his lead.

Described like that, it is a brutal suffocation of his rivals. Yet there is a fine art to it – and is very difficult to spot on track. Certainly to a casual observer. Rea has to always ensure that his rival (Redding in 2020, Tom Sykes in 2015) finished behind him.

You cannot afford to ride slow with this tactic, let’s make that clear.

If someone puts together a string of qualifying-style laps in an attempt to break away from the field, Rea uses his judgement to let them go. He has a target pace to ride to, with a small margin to increase pace should he need to recover places later in the race.

Many riders attempt to employ this tactic. Few succeed. Even fewer succeed year after year. As racing goes, this is psychological warfare: Grind down your opponent until he believes you are always that little bit better or faster than him. When a rival cracks – as Sykes and Redding did respectively – it looks sudden and spectacular as the defeated challenger loses heart and finds himself falling back through the field – or worse crashing out.

This kind of moment ensures that race result which ultimately seals the championship, but it has taken weeks, sometimes months to grind the opponent down to such a state.

Jonathan Rea Celebrating his six WSBK titles. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

You cannot pull that off overnight. Neither can you be taught it. A state of mind. You have to be utterly ruthless with your opponent – yet at the same time make it so subtle very few can spot what you’re doing until its too late.

Jonathan Rea – a true master of his art.

Ed Hocknull

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