Jonathan Rea targets repeat of trophy heroics
Reigning World Superbike champion and 2016 series leader Jonathan Rea is back in action this weekend at the Lausitzring in Germany, which returns to the SBK calendar for the first time since 2007.
It's been two long months since Rea and the world's top Superbike riders have raced in anger, and the Isle of Man-based Ulsterman is aiming to move one step closer to retaining the title that he lifted for the first time last year.
With just four rounds and eight races remaining on the 2016 World Superbike calendar, spread out over the next six weeks in Germany, France, Spain and Qatar, Rea's immediate goal is to finish in front of his Kawasaki Racing team-mate Tom Sykes at rounds 10 and 11 in Germany and France.
That would afford him the opportunity to potentially retain his title at Jerez in Spain on October 16, the same venue where he wrapped up the Championship for the first time last season.
"I'm really hungry for it and want to retain my title," explained the 29-year-old, who currently holds a 46-point lead over Sykes, with Ducati's Chaz Davies a further 62 points in arrears.
"Despite not having raced since the Laguna round in July I haven't had much of a summer break. I've used this time away from racing to drop a few kilos in weight and get really sharp for the run-in, as it's important for me to arrive in Germany in a good frame of mind.
"The next two rounds are the most important. The target is to beat Tom in those four races and arrive at Jerez more than 50 points in the lead, then manage it from there."
Having done his calculations, Rea knows that he only needs to leave the Jerez round 51 points to the good to be crowned World Superbike champion for the second year on the spin - thus avoiding a pressure cooker final round under the floodlights in Qatar.
Rea and Sykes shared the wins last time out at Laguna Seca, bringing their top step tallies to eight and five respectively aboard their factory ZX-10R Kawasakis.
Third-placed man in the series Davies has posted five wins on the Ducati, with former MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden the only other rider to have won an SBK race this season after his surprise top step in Malaysia for Honda.
Championship leader Rea sits on 368 points this season to date, with a mechanical failure during race two at Laguna his only blip on an otherwise perfect race card.
That retirement ended his impressive 17-race podium streak, which began at the start of the year in Australia.
Not one to let the grass grow under his feet in pursuit of greatness, Rea has used the two-month sabbatical wisely.
He was able to give his adopted Manx fans a reason to travel to Jurby, where the World champion was putting a standard ZX-10R road bike through its paces to keep race fit.
He also took the modified road-going ZX-10R Kawasaki to the Lausitzring to cut some laps, which should prove beneficial this weekend.
"Our rivals have tested at Lausitzring so it was important to get some track time there as it's a new track to me," said Rea.
"So I took my own Kawasaki road bike and got some track time and laps in as it's been such a long summer break."
Looking ahead, he added: "It is important to be razor sharp to give myself the best possible chance throughout the final races to the end of the year.
"My focus now is to increase the Championship lead this weekend in Germany. Personally, I am looking at the last four races as one block because they are going to go by so fast."
The track action at Lausitzring will get under way tomorrow with the two SBK races to be held on Saturday and Sunday. Both are scheduled to begin at 12pm noon UK time.