Brakes are on as Jonathan Rea must wait for World Superbike crown
Despite two strong performances in Spain over the weekend, Jonathan Rea will have to wait until the final round at Qatar at the end of the month, to retain his World Superbike title - making him the first rider to win back-to-back titles since four-time champion Carl Fogarty, back in 1999.
Having taken third and second placed finishes at Jerez on Saturday and Sunday aboard his factory Kawasaki, the 29-year-old Isle of Man based Ulsterman is 48 points to the good over main championship rival Tom Sykes. He now needs just two points from the opening race in Qatar to once again be crowned World Superbike champion.
Both Rea and Sykes, who shared the minor podium spoils in both races, had to play second best to Welshman Chaz Davies, who was a double winner at Jerez, aboard the aruba.it Ducati. But Rea was more than happy with his tactical performance in Spain, and only a major upset can now stop him from going on to take title number two on Saturday October 29.
With the champagne on ice, Rea said contentedly: "I am satisfied with the performances which will allow us to go to Qatar in a relaxed mood. To date we have nine race wins and done a very good job."
Rea's family and friends travelled to Jerez in the hope that he could repeat his success from 12 months ago, lifting the title at the Spanish venue.
Rea was third behind Davies and his championship rival Sykes in Saturday's race, but turned the screw on Sykes in yesterday's race when he passed the Yorkshire man at half distance. Despite relentless pressure from the 2013 champion, Rea hung on to second position by just 0.137secs to increase his lead to a virtually unassailable 48-points with just two races remaining this season.
It was certainly anything but a trouble free weekend for Rea and his KRT team, turning the bike upside down and inside out to find a comfortable setting, whilst having to deal with a seemingly insoluable traction control problem.
Rea explained: "Jerez is a low grip track and I struggled with front and rear traction all weekend. We changed a lot on the bike for Sunday's race. It was the right decision we made a step forward to claim second, but it was a tough weekend."
Rea has been lauded, by all and sundry for his efforts this season, and with fellow Ulsterman Eugene Laverty set to return to the series in 2017, riding a factory-supported Milwaukee backed Aprilia, local fans will have an increased interest in the global Superbike series. It certainly is a mouth-watering prospect with both local riders chasing the 2017 title.
Probably as big a story in Qatar, will be if Sykes hold off the charging Davies for second place in the final championship standings? Third place man in the series, Davies, has won five out of the last six races in the World Superbike Championship and is now just 19 points behind Sykes. Davies, like Rea has won nine races this season, and but for a mid-season blip, he would undoubtedly have given Rea a much sterner test.
Now looking over his shoulder at the Welshman, Sykes, who hasn't won a race since Laguna Seca in America back in July, lamented: "What can I say? That's the best we could manage.
"When I was behind Jonathan, when the pace slowed up I was really struggling in some areas. We're struggling at this present time and Chaz is obviously on the opposite end of the scale, so we need to really pay attention. I don't want to lose second place in the championship if we can help it."
And when quizzed on the title race he admitted it was all but over bar the shouting, stating: "Even if it was 40 points we'd be pretty much done. The fact that it is 40 or 48 is quite irrelevant when there are 50 still to play for.
"But, I think the fact we're taking it to the final race compared to last year is quite good. We have to be looking on the positive side, we have to take this as a positive and be happy with it and learn from it."