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At last! Rea makes 2019 breakthrough with Imola success

May 132019

There were times during the first four rounds of thirteen in the current FIM WorldSBK World Championship where four-times number one Jonathan Rea was gnawing his fist in frustration. New title-rival Alvaro Bautisa had landed from MotoGP sprinting for his first year in Superbike and proceeded to shut-out the series on his factory Ducati for the trips to Australia, Thailand, Holland and Spain and the new three race format.

After four years of green and black, WorldSBK had been painted red.

The ‘palette’ was mixed around the fast, historic and wonderfully challenging cambers of the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari at Imola. Rea had good form at the Italian venue: a double win in 2015 was followed by two years of runner-up positions and then another victorious sweep in 2018. Taking the march on Saturday, Rea finally broke Bautista’s stranglehold.

“I am very proud of the team,” the world champion beamed. “Even though we have not won a race until now this season, no one has given up. The atmosphere inside the garage is incredible and I have so much support. It is a really nice victory because it is for everybody that has been working hard. I felt really good because we made a step in the right direction. I stuck a pass in on Chaz Davies in turn four of lap one and then stuck my head down. That was my complete strategy. The plan worked perfectly as I was able to push the pace and then roll off in the last laps and enjoy the moment. I want to thank Kawasaki because we made a step forward from last year.”

 

Rea has been setting faster laps and race times compared to 2018 (one of his most dominant campaigns to-date) but has lacked top speed clout compared to the new Baustia-Ducati package and is frantically chasing the Spaniard both on the asphalt and in the championship standings. Saturday at Imola was the first counter-punch by #1 and increased the intrigue around the championship as many fans wait to see if a strong duel for 2019 honours will transpire.

 

Sunday in Italy was a slightly different affair. Rea started the day promisingly with victory in the Tissot sprint race – making it two-from-two for the weekend – but then the heavy rain that was forecast duly arrived. The last outing was delayed several times before Race Direction decided to cancel the flooded scene in the interests of safety. The call meant that Rea could not chase the triple, but the trip to Imola could now act as a turning point for 2019.

“It was a really positive weekend, to get my feeling with the bike here and be able to really get the maximum out of it,” said the all-time leading winner at Imola and of his 24th consecutive podium finish in WorldSBK. “To pick up two race wins makes me really happy. We never stopped believing that this weekend was a perfect opportunity for the chance to win. With our form here in the past, the way our bike works here and the way I ride - it was our chance. So we had to take it and I did.”

 

The story continues at the Jerez circuit in Spain in almost a month’s time: where will the Rea/Bautista dynamic shift next?

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