2020 WorldSBK: Pressure mounting on Jonathan Rea
Five-time World Superbike champion, Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea, has galvanised himself for one of the toughest challenges of his career at this weekend’s opening round of the 2020 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, Yamaha Finance round at Australia’s Phillip Island.
While 33-year-old Jonathan Rea completed the island’s final two day pre-season test on Tuesday with the fastest time in the 19-rider field, he’s well aware that only a mere half second separated the top six – with all five 2020 WorldSBK manufacturers represented.
Breathing down his neck in testing were Frenchman Loris Baz (Yamaha), Tom Sykes (BMW), Toprak Razgatlioglu (Yamaha), Leon Haslam on the brand new Honda and former MotoGP rider Scott Redding (Ducati) who is new to the WorldSBK ranks.
“We had a really good test, where I felt good with the bike,” said Jonathan Rea today, prior to Friday’s first practice sessions ahead of the weekend’s qualifying and races.
“I feel great, this is the closest thing I get to a home race as I spend a lot of time here in Cowes and my wife was born here. For me, Phillip Island is the nicest track on the calendar, very unique, very fast, lots of fourth and fifth gear corners.
“But we’ve got to play with the island elements being so close to the sea, the wind creates havoc with set-up. Some days the bike’s working great, then you wake up the next day, it’s a little bit different
“I’m super excited about 2020, there’s so many fast guys here. It’s a long championship with the addition of the Superpole race with have 39 races per year, so consistency is more a key than ever.”
“I’ll just try to do my best, keep my momentum throughout the year and never give up to the end.”
With Jonathan Rea in great shape to defend his title, the biggest intrigue ahead of round one is Redding on the Phillip Island-loving Ducati, with the manufacturer having won the last five WorldSBK races at the circuit.
At 28, Redding has a wealth of experience having raced MotoGP and most recently won the British Superbike Championship. He’s also a former Moto2 title runner-up.
Redding has settled beautifully with the factory Ducati team and the Panigale V4 R, which Alvaro Bautista was such a towering presence on in 2019. “Now going into the race weekend, everything is new for me again with the three race format,” said Redding.
“I’ll take it step at a time, not overthink too many things and get out and race. I have no strategy whatsoever for the Superpole race. Just try and go behind someone who is going fast and see what happens!
“Here I think it is more difficult because of tyre wear is quite a big factor at the circuit for the long race, for the short race I am not so sure.
“I have no history of how I can approach it so I’ll just go on the moment and try and battle it down to the last lap. But my target is to come and win races.”
With fine weather predicted for Phillip Island this weekend – the 30th time World Superbikes has been held at the circuit – the racing is expected to be Phillip Island ‘old-school’ with a freight train of riders at the front, drafting and jostling until the very last run down Gardner Straight.
Bautista for one doubts he will repeat last season’s sensational triple victory at the island despite a phenomenal top speed of his new factory Honda.
“Last season, was an incredible start. Nobody expected that, me the first,” said Bautista “This season, it’s a different situation. There’s a lot of work to do. HRC is working really hard. I would like for some more tests, and try more things, but now is the time to race. I am sure we will arrive to be competitive, but the question will be, how much time we need for that.”
Three WorldSBK races will be held at Phillip Island: 22-lappers at 3:00pm on tomorrow and Sunday, and a 10-lap sprint at midday on Sunday. Click here for the full weekend schedule.
Bayliss in the World Supersport action
Sixteen-year-old Oli Bayliss (Yamaha), the son of Troy Bayliss, will make his international debut racing as a wildcard entry in Sunday’s World Supersport race. He made solid progress during this week’s test, and the goal will be to score some points.
“I’m aiming for a top 15, I’m not fighting for a podium,” said a realistic Bayliss today who’s best time in testing was nearly a second faster than his previous best around the Phillip Island circuit. “My World Supersport bike is not so different from my Australian Supersport bike. It still does the same thing, it’s still flat out down the straight.”
Italian Andrea Locatelli (Yamaha) was the standout in testing, with the former Moto3 and Moto2 rider enjoying his switch to the production class, with World champion and 2019 Phillip Island winner Randy Krummenacher (MV Agusta) second.
World Supersport’s race distance was changed today from 18 to 16 laps for a “dry” race, plus the inclusion of a compulsory pit stop for a tyre change no later than the end of lap 10.
For Australian competitors, today launched their 2020 mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship presented by Motul. For the four classes, 12 races are scheduled in support of the SBK for Australian Superbikes, Supersport, Supersport 300 and the Oceania Junior Cup.
In first practice yesterday, Cru Halliday on the Yamaha was fastest (1min32.5secs), with Wayne Maxwell (1:32.61) second on the Ducati V4R second. Josh Waters on his privateer Suzuki prepared by his brother Brodie, was particularly impressive in his first outing with the third fastest time.
The grid is packed with sublime talent: defending champion, Mike Jones (Ducati), hard-charger Aiden Wagner, who’s now joined Yamaha’s factory effort, reigning No. 2 Troy Herfoss (Honda), Bryan Staring (Kawasaki), Daniel Falzon (Yamaha), Josh Waters (Suzuki) and Cru Halliday (Yamaha) and American legend Josh Hayes (Yamaha) who’s making a one-off appearance in the championship.
Last year’s towering Supersport presence, Tom Toparis, was the fastest in Australian Supersport practice with Oli Bayliss just behind on the Yamaha and Jack Passfield third. In Supersport 300’s opening session, Harry Khouri led the pack fastest on his Yamaha from a massive field of 44 riders in the class; while in the Oceania Junior Cup sessions, Angus Grenfell was fastest
The opening round of the WorldSBK kicked off yesterday, but it isn’t too late to get tickets!
Tickets will be available at the gate, or you can book them by clicking on the ad below.
For the full weekend race schedule, click here.