Jonathan Rea saved his best for last as the World Superbike champion halted Toprak Razgatlioglu’s title charge with a pivotal victory in the final race at Portimao in Portugal yesterday.
Rea was on the back foot after he crashed out of Saturday’s first race and failed to score any points after another mistake yesterday, when he was caught out by the conditions in a wet Superpole race.
The Kawasaki rider, who had a lucky escape on Saturday after coming off his machine at the fast final right-hand corner before the main straight, was facing a deficit of 49 points to Razgatlioglu with one race of the weekend remaining.
Then, however, in a dramatic turn of events, it was Rea who came from 10th place on the grid to seal a lucky 13th victory at Portimao, giving the Northern Ireland man his 110th career WSBK success.
Razgatlioglu, who won Saturday’s race after being pushed all the way by Englishman Scott Redding, crashed out of second place at the same corner where Rea met his demise in race one.
It was a cruel twist for the 24-year-old, who came off his Pata Yamaha when the front mudguard appeared to break loose.
Opportunity knocked for Rea and the reigning six-time champion grasped his chance with both hands, putting his head down and setting a blistering pace at the front to see off Aruba.it Ducati rider Redding by 5.4s.
It was a timely success for Rea, who clawed back the points he lost to Razgatlioglu in the first two races.
With two rounds of the championship remaining — albeit with a question mark over the finale at the new Mandalika circuit in Indonesia due to the Covid-19 situation — Rea is now 24 points behind his Yamaha rival.
Reflecting on a roller-coaster 11th round of the series, he said he was left feeling frustrated by his mistakes.
“Complicated is the word, disappointing is a better word,” said the Ballyclare man. “I’m really frustrated because my team put me in such a good position to capitalise this weekend and I threw it away. I made two silly mistakes by being impatient when my bike was working well, and I had a rhythm.
“I was really upset with myself after the Superpole race and I just said to the guys that we had nothing to lose.
“We’ve been in this position before. Let’s just try to enjoy my bike.”
Dutch rider Michael van der Mark won yesterday’s wet Superpole race from Redding and Andrea Locatelli. Frenchman Loris Baz received a one-place penalty, dropping him to fourth.
Razgatlioglu seemed to struggle in the conditions and could only increase his advantage over Rea by a further four points as he crossed the line in sixth place.
The track was completely dry a few hours later for race two, and Rea set off from 10th place like a man possessed.
“I sat on the grid with no pressure, I just wanted to make a really good start,” he said.
“I had such a perfect launch; I was just going forward. It was the best start of my season.
“I saw Toprak was out so that gave me some breathing space, I could really not buck the rhythm, enjoy the race and ride to the pit board. That was a nice feeling.”
Razgatlioglu leads the standings with 478 points, with Rea on 454 and Redding with 424.
Eugene Laverty, filling in for the injured Tom Sykes in the BMW Motorrad team, was ninth on Saturday, ninth in the Superpole race and 10th in race two.
The penultimate round takes place in two weeks’ time at San Juan in Argentina from October 15-17.
Race 1: 1 T Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha); 2. S Redding (Aruba.it Ducati) +0.691s; 3. L Baz (Team Go Eleven Ducati) +10.628s; 4. M Rinaldi (Aruba.it Ducati) +12.901s; 5. L Haslam (Team HRC Honda) +13.305; 6. Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha) +13.596s.
Superpole race: 1 M VD Mark (BMW); 2 S Redding (Aruba.it Ducati) +5.330s; 3 L Baz (Team Go Eleven Ducati) +7.066s; 4 A Locatelli (Pata Yamaha) +9.264s; 5 A Bautista (Team HRC Honda) +9.753s; 6 T Razgatlioglu (Yamaha) +16.745s.
Race 2: J Rea (Kawasaki); 2 S Redding (Aruba.it Ducati) +5.425s; 3 A Locatelli (Yamaha) +12.289s; 4 L Baz (Team Go Eleven Ducati) +12.300s; 5 G Gerloff (GRT Yamaha) +13.956s; 6 M VD Mark (BMW) +15.289s.