Jonathan Rea delighted as he closes in on fourth world crown
Jonathan Rea was in imperious form in the USA over the weekend, recording his first double victory at Laguna Seca in California to extend his World Superbike Championship lead to 75 points with five rounds to go.
In ramping up his pursuit of a fourth consecutive title, the Ulsterman took an unprecedented fourth win at the venue.
The second race last night saw Rea start in ninth position on the grid, race through into second by lap four of 25 and reel in leader of the race Eugene Laverty, his fellow Ulsterman.
Rea went on to eventually take the lead on lap eight and clinched victory by five seconds from Chaz Davies, with Laverty scoring his first podium since 2014 and the first for Milwaukee Aprilia.
Rea said: "I'm really, really happy. The bike was even better today, it was more stable and easier to ride. I was thinking how I just love riding my bike around here. I was also thinking of Dan Kneen and Adam Lyon (who lost their lives in TT accidents) - that win was for them."
Laverty said: "That was a great race. I made the perfect start and that podium has been a long time coming - four years. It is also great for the Milwaukee Aprilia team, who have worked so hard for this."
After qualifying third fastest, Kawasaki ace Rea won the opening race of the weekend after spending the early laps behind the Ducati of Davies before pouncing on a mistake by the Welsh rider.
Davies ran wide on the entry to the famous Corkscrew section of the course on lap seven and Rea instantly took his opportunity.
He swept round the outside and got past his Welsh rival and built on his lead lap by lap, taking the chequered flag three seconds clear of his Championship foe.
Yamaha's Alex Lowes finished in third with Ulsterman Laverty a terrific fourth as the Milwaukee Aprilia at last showed some of its potential.
Rea said: "That win was for my mechanics. They had built me a new ZX-10RR overnight after I destroyed one in my fall at Turn 5 on Friday.
"That was a gentle reminder of just how close to the limit we race.
"In the race I felt good in the early laps behind Chaz, even though his pace was really fast. I knew when he made the mistake that I had to go through, set my rhythm and tenth-by-tenth slowly build a lead.
"It was more difficult than I thought as the front tyre grip was dropping quite a lot. An extra 10 degrees of heat in the track temperature was just massive. We learned a lot for the second race and look to be a little stronger."
His team-mate Tom Sykes, who was very critical of Rea's crew chief Pere Riba in a pre-race interview, lost front end grip very early in the race and Laverty was able to pick him off easily enough.
The Toomebridge man said afterwards: "We appear to have sorted out our rear grip problems and being able to overtake Tom and the Kawasaki for fourth was a boost, as I coming faster in the closing stages of the race. I qualified fourth and finished fourth and this is a great boost to aim for a podium place in race two."
Tensions have been simmering in the Kawasaki garage ever since the race two clash between Rea and Sykes in the Czech Republic, and the latter didn't hold back in his interview.
He said that the problems went back to before the Ulsterman even came into the Kawasaki squad.
He said: "It's strange really. The history goes back a long way. Not between me and Jonathan, but also my team-mates at Kawasaki, which is a shame really.
"I had a great relationship with Joan Lascorz and Loris Baz starting out with Kawasaki. I put the problems down to one man, Pere Riba. It's the way he goes about his business.
"It's a shame because there is no need for it. It's the team at the end of the day."
Certainly not the best way for the 2013 world champion to maintain his place in the Kawasaki team - or will he be moving on at the end of the 2018 season?
The rumour mill is in overdrive even though there is still a lot of racing to get through with many twists and turns still to entertain us.
Of the collision between himself and Sykes at Brno and the differing accounts of the incident, Rea - when asked if he had a point to prove at Laguna - said: "Absolutely not. I've forgotten about what happened and we moved on."
The Ulsterman certainly did his talking on the track by winning both races with his team-mate back in seventh and eighth.