WorldSBK: Portimao – A happy hunting ground for Rea
Sunday November 2nd 2008, was a landmark date in WorldSBK history. It was on this day that the FIM Superbike World Championship first raced at the thrilling Algarve circuit. It was also the debut for a rider that would go on to rewrite the record books. Jonathan Rea was then a fresh-faced 21-year-old but he was far from a wet behind the ears rookie. Having raced for three years in BSB, he had lots of big bike experience but instead he opted for a season in WorldSSP to polish his skills. At the final round of the year the Northern Irishman was out of title contention and stepped up a class.
He was a strong Supersport rider but his experience made him very comfortable on the bigger bike and immediately got down to work and up to speed. Going into the weekend, there was little expectation on him. This was a weekend where the goal was to learn as much as possible before making his full-time debut at Round 1 in 2009. As ever with Rea, he quickly went about proving himself. In opening practice, he was inside the top five. In Superpole, he was on the front row.
Throughout 2008, the Ten Kate squad knew they had a potential star on their hands. His form in the Supersport class turned heads and the manner in which he learned from his teammate, the eventual Champion Andrew Pitt, showed an intelligent approach to racing that would become his trade mark in the future. Over the next 11 years, Rea would go on to become the most successful rider at the Portuguese circuit and in WorldSBK history. During this weekend’s Motul Portuguese Round, the five-time Champion will need to show once again that he’s the King of Portimao.
With Scott Redding leading the way last weekend at Jerez, it is crucial for Rea and the Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK to bounce back. The hot conditions of Spain weren’t kind to the ZX-10RR and while Rea was able to win the Tissot Superpole Race, it was clear that in the feature length races, he faced a much bigger struggle.
“Race 2 was the longest race I’ve had,” said Rea. “I was defending my position a lot and that wasn’t how I wanted to ride. We need to try to forget it because I felt really good his weekend with the bike and this track has not been the kindest to us in the past. In Race 1 and the Superpole Race, the bike was working great so I don’t want Race 2 to cloud our overall conclusion from the weekend. It was hard because as soon as I got the bike on its side in turn three and accelerated towards four it wasn’t pushing the tyre and going forward. I was frustrated with that.”
Finding the cause of this will be key for Rea. In conditions broadly similar from day to day, it was a surprise to see him so hamstrung. He was also held back by the potential of the Ducati Panigale V4 R which was clearly the bike to have in Spain. With a long straight in Portimao the 33-year-old is clearly concerned about what to expect.
“If I could magically flick my fingers I would have 15 horsepower more,” he said. “On the straight exiting the last corner and on the short back straight, where we only use five gears, the time we lose is enough. Between all these corners there are acceleration zones and we are losing time but our chassis is very good and last year proved that even without the fastest engine, we could still have the best package over a season.”
Being able to find a way to maximise his package will be the key for Rea. It was a sign of how strong a job he has done in recent years that last weekend, despite winning a race and finishing second in another, was viewed as a poor return due to a sixth place finish in Race 2. Rea has set an incredibly high bar with which to be judged. That’s been the case since his debut in 2008 and won’t change any time soon. With nine wins at Portimao, he knows the importance of adding to his tally this weekend.