Jonathan Rea believes a lack of standing water on track caused him to slip from first to fourth in the second World Superbike race at Magny-Cours, postponing his title coronation until Estoril.
Rea arrived in France with a shot at sealing a record-breaking sixth consecutive world championship, with his chances boosted by commanding wins in Race 1 and the Superpole race, as title rival Scott Redding struggled to make it on the podium.
This meant he only needed to stay inside the top three in the second full-distance race of the weekend on Sunday to wrap up the title, a task made easy by him grabbing pole position.
But after losing the lead to a charging Redding on Lap 3, Rea also fell behind the Ten Kate Yamaha of Loris Baz and Redding’s Ducati teammate Chaz Davies, slipping to fourth position.
The 33-year-old attempted to repass Davies in the final stages of the 21-lap race, but a mistake at Turn 1 on the penultimate lap put paid to his effort, and he failed to achieve the result he needed to settle the title fight at Magny-Cours.
While all on track sessions over the weekend were held in wet conditions, including some during the race, the 33-year-old felt the Kawasaki bike wasn’t suited to a drying track.
Rea’s teammate Alex Lowes also struggled for pace in the same race, finishing nearly 20 seconds down on winner Redding, having finished on the podium in the opening two encounters of the weekend.
“We’ve seen all weekend when there is not a lot of surface water we are struggling, like in warm-up and in the Superpole session for example, especially with traction at the exit of the corner, losing too much on the exit at Turn 5,” Rea explained.
“But the bike setup was pretty good. In the chicanes and all the places where you have to be aggressive with the bike, I was pretty good. Just the stop and go corner on the exit, I had too much TC [traction control] working, also too much spinning.
“Where I was making my time compared to Chaz was in the opposite parts of the track. I was much better in the chicanes and T1, 2 and 3. But he took too much time [out of me] on the exit of 5 and exit of 13. This was the race.”
Rea sat fourth in the championship after the season opener at Phillip Island in February and his chances of defending his crown were threatened by Scott Redding, who like his predecessor Alvaro Bautista had made a strong start to his rookie campaign.
But Rea eventually pulled well clear of Redding in the title race, with his Superpole triumph at Magny-Cours marking his 11th victory of the season.
Having built a 59-point advantage over Redding with only 62 on offer in the Estoril curtain-closer, the Kawasaki rider says a sixth title in WSBK is now within his grasp.
“First we need to get it done,” he said. “But to even imagine going in a world championship [winning position], to go to the last round with this points gap is really encouraging, especially after we started the year with a DNF in Phillip Island.
“To keep working every weekend, win a lot of races, when we couldn’t win we would be close. It’s nice, it’s closer. I can align myself to think about it. And that’s very cool.”
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