Superbike world champion Jonathan Rea made inroads on Alvaro Bautista’s championship lead at Jerez, in Spain, this weekend, despite being penalised after being adjudged to have knocked off Yamaha’s Alex Lowes in the battle for third in Saturday’s opening race.
Bautista had cleared off out front as Rea and Lowes enjoyed a fierce, race long, battle for the final podium position, behind second placed Michael van der Mark. Like so many races at the famous MotoGP circuit, the result was defined by a last lap incident, as Rea tried to cut back on his rival. The move saw the pair touch, with Lowes ending up in the gravel trap and a distraught Rea being retrospectively knocked back to fourth place (promoting Marco Melandri to the podium) for his part in the incident. The Carole Nash backed champion faced a double penalty, as he was demoted to the back of the grid for Sunday morning’s Superpole sprint race.
That 10-lap race, for which reduced points are given, saw the same top four in the same order, as Rea battled through to fourth from the back of the grid. There was more bad luck for Lowes though, as he crashed and failed to finish.
Like Saturday’s race, Sunday’s main event was a cracker too. The main talking point was Bautista, who crashed his Ducati out of the lead early in proceedings. That put Rea back at the front of the pack, but it was Van der Mark who was able to take the lead and his, and Yamaha’s first win of the season. The Dutchman’s success made him the weekend’s top scorer and moves him to third in the championship, at a venue where the Yamaha YZF-R1 showed much promise, even though team-mate Lowes’ weekend went from bad to worse when he slid off at the first corner.
Rea also outscored Bautista, to narrow the gap at the top of the standings to 41 points, while his Kawasaki team-mate Leon Haslam had a solid weekend – improving in each race to record ninth, sixth and fifth – and the British championship sits fifth, ahead of Melandri. The Italian missed out on the possibility of a trio of podiums when he crashed out of the weekend’s final race, controversially taking Chaz Davies out with him.
Despite showing signs of his old pace last time out at Imola, Jerez proved a challenge once again for the Welsh Ducati rider. After a pair of below par results, Davies appeared to find podium pace on Sunday afternoon, but his blameless accident sees him move back down to eighth in the standings, overtaken by young Turk Toprak Razgatlioglu, who took an impressive third on his privately entered Kawasaki ZX-10RR, in a race shortened when the red flags came out two laps before the scheduled end of the race.
“In the final race I did not have the pace of Mikey,” said Rea. “I need to check the times but we definitely made a step with the bike set-up from yesterday afternoon to today, especially with the front end feeling in the faster corners. But over the lap there were some areas where I was very close, or even better than Michael, but in one crucial area I just lost too much. It is something we have been working on all weekend and today the bike was better. I needed a clean day today to finish both races strongly. This morning’s race took a lot out of me mentally and physically – coming from the back of the grid to try and make up all those positions in a short space of time.
“(On Saturday) our bike, with grip, was working incredibly well, especially in the morning in the cooler conditions. With the temperatures rising in the afternoon (for the race), maybe a combination of that, or what we changed on the rear of the bike a little, I really struggled right at the apex of the corners to turn around. It was putting so much stress on the front tyre. I tried to do the best I could, but when Alvaro came past it was on a completely different rhythm. I found myself on a similar pace to Alex. On the last lap I tried to be as close as possible to do something in the last corner. I saw him going wide on the racing line so I decided to do a cutback and go to the inside. Unfortunately at that point he was fully committed to the corner, I did not got through far enough, we had contact and he went down. I am really sorry for ending his race but it was a real racing accident; last lap, last corner battle.”
Haslam added: “Every session we were struggling with the front traction and we ran a bit more angle and corner speed compared to some of the other Kawasaki riders and I think that has been hindering me, especially as the temperatures have risen. I have tried to adapt my style and played around a little bit with set-up. I felt in that final race of the weekend I had good pace and could have challenged for that third place but I get stuck behind Tom (Sykes) for too many laps. Then when I got past him I was pushing too hard, like I was before, making too many mistakes. I was just lining Rinaldi up when the red flags came out. Another fifth place, so obviously I am not too happy about the result, but we have managed a lot of problems here this weekend.”
Of the other Brits, Tom Sykes took creditable sixth and seventh place finishes in the two main races on his improving BMW S1000RR, while Tommy Bridewell finished 10th in the final race of the weekend, as he continued to stand in for the injured Eugene Laverty.
The next round of the series takes place at Italy’s Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli in two weeks’ time.