Jonathan Rea broke Kawasaki team-mate Tom Sykes’ nine race unbeaten run around Donington Park after a sensational opening lap in Sunday’s race saw him carve through from 10th on the grid to take a lead he would never lose.
Up to that point the British round had proven difficult for the reigning champion and 2017 points leader. Misfortune stuck in race one when a faulty rear tyre pitched him off down the daunting Craner Curves. Rea had inherited the lead when rival Chaz Davies slipped off at the slow Goddards corner on lap seven and spent the next 10 laps closely shadowed by Sykes.
Rea slowed slightly and relinquished his lead to Sykes, but worse was to come on lap 21 of the 23 lap race, when the tyre appeared to quickly lose pressure. Despite the ferocity of the accident, the Carole Nash ambassador was able to walk away uninjured, although his bike was destroyed in the incident. He later described the crash as feeling like a sniper had shot his back tyre.
The departure of Rea and Davies opened the door for Sykes to take his first victory of the season, his ninth world superbike win in a row at Donington, but the story of the race was the second place for another Carole Nash ambassador, wild-card Leon Haslam on the privately run Puccetti Kawasaki.
The British superbike championship leader had been in sensational form in Friday’s practice sessions but was on the back foot going into Saturday afternoon’s race after crashing during the qualifying session. Despite his mishap, he was still able to qualify eighth on the grid. Leon showed his true pace in the race, giving his Italian team its first podium finish in the championship. The podium was completed by another Brit, Yamaha’s Alex Lowes, who put in a heroic ride. Lowes had found himself stone last after being pushed out on the very first corner but fought back through the field to give the R1 team their first podium finish of the season.
There was a reversal of fortunes in Sunday’s race as Leon found himself the innocent victim of some early race bunching. The 33-year-old was clipped by Leandro Mercado’s Aprilia coming out of Goddards for the second time, a clash that also saw Davies take to grass in avoidance.
The frantic opening lap, arguably a result of the reverse grid rules brought in for 2017, saw Rea scythe through the field. The Northern Irish rider had been back on the fourth row after failing to finish on Saturday, but put in what he described as one of the best laps of his career to make up eight places on the opening lap.
Rea took the lead at the start of lap two, with Sykes and Davies back in the pack. The championship leader put the hammer down and although circuit specialist Sykes was able to close the gap to just over a second, Rea’s relentless pace was enough to break his team-mate’s Donington Park stranglehold and keep his hopes of a third successive championship on track.
Speaking after the race, Rea said: “I had an incredible first lap today. I had been really frustrated because I got penalised by no fault of my own yesterday in scoring no points and then penalised again with my grid position today, when I went back to 10th. I knew I had to make a good start straight away otherwise my race was over. I was really quiet today and after warm-up I was really nervous. I was going through all these scenarios in my head about what I would do with a good start, or a bad start, and then what my race plan would be. My guys worked really hard overnight to build a completely brand new bike because yesterday’s was destroyed. The first time I rode it this morning, with some set-up changes from Pere (Riba, Crew Chief). The bike was talking to me in a way I have not had this year. So I knew today was mine if I could get a good start.”
Sykes was magnanimous in defeat, adding: “I was closing the lead but with three laps to go I started to ‘over-ask’ from the bike in some corners. But if there were three more laps to go then I could have continued in a more calculating way and continued the progress. When I started the race I was on the inside of the grid and turn one was a complete disaster. I had to almost stop the bike because some people were trying to win the race in the first turn. We had this to deal with and then there was a crash in the last turn which made us all hesitate, so the race got off in a very bad way for me. I am disappointed to lose my Donington winning record in this way. But all things considered I was beaten fairly and Jonathan rode very well. This day had to arrive at some moment in my racing life but unfortunately it came today, even though I believe our race pace was very strong.”
Sykes’ results saw him move ahead of Davies in the points standings. He leaves Donington Park second in the championship, 55 points behind Rea. Davies salvaged a third in race two and is a further 20 points behind Rea, as the championship moves to Misano on 17-18 June.