Temperatures climbed high in the desert for the thirteenth and final round of 2019 WorldSBK but world champion Jonathan Rea was again too hot to handle for his Superbike rivals around the floodlit course of Losail. The five-time #1 routed the competition to win all three of the races in Qatar and end the season with 17 successes and 88 for his career.
Saturday’s programme was particularly sweet for the Northern Irishman as he defeated Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista in the Sprint race: a symbol that the Kawasaki man had truly turned the tables on the former MotoGP athlete. Bautista had dominated the first four rounds of the championship at a canter with the new Italian motorcycle but then a succession of misjudgement and Rea’s relentless pressure and own improvement on the Ninja ZX-10RR meant he was the one able to (re)polish the WorldSBK champion’s trophy.
Rea then beat both of the factory Ducati’s again for the final outing of the year. 17 wins equalled the all-time record for triumphs in one season, and Rea’s push also delivered the Manufacturer’s title for Kawasaki (Rea boasts half of the brands 146 chequered flags in WorldSBK).
“Seventeen race wins this year and two triples – Donington and here - so this is special, super-special,” the record-breaker grinned. “I am really happy and content because to be honest we never expected to get beaten so bad in the beginning. Even in the middle of the season we knew we needed to enter these last two rounds with a gap in the championship to fight for it.”
“I am really happy with the package of our bike because in these last two races, with the longest straights in the championship, and the fastest circuits, we have proved that you need more than a fast engine to win,” he added. “I am super-proud of all my team. This weekend we changed the base set-up so many times, from Race One to Superpole to Race Two; you would not believe me is I told you what we did. We turned the bike upside down and each and every time we had some positives and negatives, so it just shows our bike is working inside a good window.”
In the same garage Leon Haslam ended his term with the Kawasaki Racing Team by almost squeezing onto the rostrum in the Sprint race. The ex-BSB Champion and 2019 Suzuka 8-hour winner sits 7th in the championship after Qatar. “The season has had its ups and down and I have had a fundamental problem of trying to adapt my style to what is needed on this bike,” Haslam said. “Getting the bike stopped and battling has been one of the things I have struggled with and normally that is one of my strengths. But I have had some positive races, good battles in Australia, Misano and Aragon with Johnny. To win Suzuka this year has been fantastic. I had three good battles in the last three races of the year.”
Haslam’s saddle will be taken for 2020 by Englishman Alex Lowes. The Pata Yamaha racer posted results in Qatar to defeat teammate Michael Van Der Mark in the chase to be 2019 bronze medal holder behind Rea and Bautista.
"It was good to end the season with a strong weekend here in Qatar but, apart from one bad weekend in Jerez and the crash while leading in Misano, I've been up there in the top-six and really strong in every race,” he assessed. “The target this year was to finish top-three in the championship; obviously everyone wants to be world champion, but you've got to improve on what you did the year before, keep learning, keep moving forward and this year was a good step forward for me. It's a bittersweet end to the season because I'm leaving a team that has such a great atmosphere, with whom I get on really well and in which I feel a part of the family. We'll all face new challenges next season, but tonight I'm going to enjoy it, together with the guys who've worked so hard for me and helped me achieve my goal this season."