Round 9 WorldSBK Catalunya, Spain, Race 1

It was Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad) who ended Jonathan Rea’s (Kawasaki KRT) dominance of superpoles by claiming his very own with a fastest lap of 1:40.408. Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha) getting 2nd with Rea in 3rd.

Catalunya Race 1 WorldSBK Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team – Provec Racing

The start of race one was declared wet with rain pelting down onto the track. No surprise then that the whole grid went with wet tyres. Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) retired before the start, unfortunately crashing out on the sighting lap.

Lights out and it was Razgatlioglu with a great start in the tricky conditions, getting the hole shot into turn 1. Locatelli on the other Pata Yamaha was briefly in 2nd before Rea came through to claim the position. It was Rinaldi (Aruba.it Ducati) in 3rd, Locatelli 4th and Bassani (Motocorsa Racing Ducati) in 5th from a grid position of 11th. However both Sykes and Redding (Aruba.it Ducati) had terrible starts and found themselves way down in 9th and 10th respectively.

By the start of lap 2, Rea had found a way past Razgatlioglu and was looking to get away, although the Turkish rider was having none of it and they swapped the lead several times. Bassani was now up to 3rd, looking confident in the difficult conditions and looking to join the battle up front.

Rea had put the hammer down on lap 3, posting a fastest lap of 1:57.362 and this pace was now putting a significant gap into Toprak behind who had to deal with Bassani who had closed right behind him. Further back the Honda team mates of Haslam and Bautista were in 9th and 14th respectively with Nozane (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) in 10th and Redding who had slipped further back to 11th.

Rinaldi and vd Mark (BMW Motorrad) were having a battle for 4th place. Both bikes came together with Rinaldi coming off the better and scraping through to take 4th. Meanwhile up front Razgatlioglu had his hands full keeping Bassani at bay with both riders giving the spectators a real treat, swapping positions several times. This was all playing into the Northern Irishman’s hands and he had now increased his gap at the front to 2.5 on lap 4.

Further back Lowes (Kawasaki KRT) had now moved into 5th, taking the position from vd Mark. Redding was 7.5 behind the leader in 10th and looking very unsure of his Ducati in the brutal conditions.

Razgatlioglu responded to the pace of Rea putting in a new fastest lap of 1:56.777. Meanwhile further back there was a three way battle for 8th, 9th and 10th between Sykes, Locatelli and Redding respectively, with the latter eventually moving through to take 8th.

With 15 laps to go, Bassani takes 2nd from Razgatlioglu, the Italian looking for his first ever WorldSBK win. No doubt Toprak was getting more frustrated as he saw his championship lead being cut.

Meanwhile Haslam had now caught the group of Rinaldi 4th, vd Mark 5th and Lowes 6th to make it a four way battle. At the front Razgatlioglu responds with another fastest lap of 1:56.544, desperate not to let Bassani get away.

With 12 laps to go, Redding had now made it onto the back of the Haslam group into 8th and was looking more confident into the tricky corners, but would there be enough laps for him to get any further?

Halfway stage of the race and Rea now appeared to be losing his advantage with both Bassani and Razgatlioglu less than a second behind. The Turkish rider setting a previous lap nearly a whole second quicker than Rea.

Catalunya Race 1 WorldSBK Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team – Provec Racing

With 9 laps left, Razgatlioglu had come through on Bassani and then drives his Yamaha around the outside of Rea to take over the lead. Bassani then uses all the grunt of the Ducati to power past Rea down the straight, Rea falling back like a stone now and would soon have vd Mark on him. Redding meanwhile, was in 6th and looking for a way past Rinaldi in 5th.

Then drama with 6 laps to go, disaster strikes for Razgatlioglu, his Yamaha losing all power and that spells the end of his race. Bassani could not believe his fortune and takes over the race lead.

With 5 laps to go, there was now a group of 5 riders all vying for the win. Rea continued to slip back and both Ducati team mates came through, Rinaldi in 2nd with Redding in 3rd, Rea now 4th and vd Mark in 5th.

Lap 18 and Redding was really in the groove and after getting by on his team mate, he had Bassani firmly in his crosshairs in the process setting a fastest lap of 1:56.166.

Into turn 5 and Redding makes a block pass on Bassani, taking over the lead. With only 3 laps to go could Bassani respond? Meanwhile Rea was desperately trying to hold off vd Mark in 4th.

Redding does not allow Bassani back into contention and takes an amazing win after only being in 10th on lap 1. Bassani comes over the line in 2nd, Rinaldi 3rd, Rea 4th and vd Mark 5th. Other notable places were Lowes in 6th, Haslam 7th, Sykes 8th and Bautista 9th.

The result meant Rea would again take over at the top of this quite breathtaking championship from Razgatlioglu.

Result top 5:

  1. Redding (aruba.it Ducati)
  2. Bassani (motocorsa racing Ducati)
  3. Rinaldi (aruba.it Ducati)
  4. Rea (Kawasaki KRT)
  5. vd Mark (BMW Motorrad)

Out: Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha), Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team)

Championship top 3:

  1. Rea 376 pts
  2. Razgatlioglu 370
  3. Redding 323

 

 

Round 7 WorldSBK Navarra, Spain, Race 2

The earlier Superpole race finished an exact copy of race 1 with Redding (Aruba.it Ducati) taking the win, followed by 2nd Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team)., and 3rd Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha).

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WSBK Navarra 22.08.2021
Picture courtesy of Ducati Racing

Race 2 saw track temperatures rising to nearly 50 degrees celsius., with riders deciding on a wide range of tyre options. Redding choosing a softer front tyre, while Rea and Razgatlioglu opted for a harder tyre. Could Redding make it a clean sweep of wins at Navarra?

After a delayed start, it was lights out and Redding with another quick fire blast off the line, again got the hole shot, great start. The same couldn’t be said for Rea who slipped back to 5th from his 2nd on grid.

The gloves were definitely off with Locatelli (Pata Yamaha) slicing his way from nowhere briefly taking the lead from a stunned Redding before then going wide into a corner to concede the lead back to Redding.

Starting lap 2 and it stood: 1st Redding, 2nd Locatelli, 3rd Razgatlioglu, 4th Rea, 5th Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team), 6th Sykes (BMW Motorrad).

Then more drama for Davies (GoEleven Ducati) who was having a miserable weekend. He lost the front end of his bike into turn 9, subsequently sending it ploughing into the back of Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) who found himself helplessly sliding into the gravel. Both riders were out of the race.

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WSBK Navarra 22.08.2021
Picture courtesy of Ducati Racing

Onto lap 3 and Razgatlioglu, showing impressive speed, gets through on Redding to take the lead. Then it’s the turn of Rea, who cuts under Redding into the hairpin corner to take 2nd. As in race 1 this trio was again pulling clear of the rest.

The northern Irishman had his sights on the Turk, and wasn’t letting him escape, setting a new fastest lap of 1:37.609. Meanwhile Redding was looking like he was struggling to match the pace and was slipping further back.

Further down the field it was the BMW team mates of Sykes and Vd Mark in 5th and 6th respectively, with Lowes in 7th and Bautista (Honda HRC) further back in 10th.

With 15 laps to go, Lowes comes through on Vd Mark into turn 15 to take 6th.

Rea was closing in on Razgatlioglu, but looked like he was really struggling with front end chatter, the bike visibly bouncing into some corners. Rea held a gap of 0.5 to Redding in 3rd.

With 11 laps to go, Razgatlioglu had a gap of 0.5 to Rea in 2nd. Meanwhile Redding had found something, and was now right within striking distance of Rea.

Nine laps to go and Razgatlioglu found a second wind and was pulling clear of Rea, pushing the gap out to 1.0. Meanwhile Honda continued their poor weekend, with Haslam (Honda HRC) sending his bike sliding in a shower of sparks into the gravel. He cut a dejected figure trudging back.

Rea was really under pressure from Redding now and only had a gap 0.3 to the Ducati. The pressure was telling with Rea losing the front end, but as he had in race 1, he somehow managed to save it. Rea was fighting the Kawasaki into the corners and subsequently went wide, letting Redding through.

Redding now had his sights firmly on the Yamaha but with only 3 laps left could he catch Razgatlioglu who was looking comfortable, and held a 1.0 advantage.

Last lap and Razgatlioglu was holding his nerve keeping Redding at bay. He crosses the line to deny Redding a hat trick of wins, Redding getting 2nd while Rea crossed further down in 3rd.

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WSBK Navarra 22.08.2021
Picture courtesy of Ducati Racing

Amazingly enough, the result means there is a two way tie for the lead of the championship between Rea and Razgatlioglu. Surely this season will come down to the wire. Expect more fireworks!

Result top 5:

  1. Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha)
  2. Redding (Aruba.it Ducati)
  3. Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team)
  4. Locatelli (Pata Yamaha)
  5. Sykes (BMW Motorrad)

Riders out: Davies (GoEleven Ducati), Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), Nozane (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), Uramoto (Suzuki), Haslam (Honda HRC).

Championship top 3:

  1. Rea 311 pts
  2. Razgatlioglu 311
  3. Redding 273

 

 

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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