Jonathan Rea extends Superbikes Championship lead with Laguna Seca win
Ulsterman closing in on a record-breaking fifth title in a row
Jonathan Rea took a massive step towards an unprecedented fifth World Superbike title in a row with victory in last night's dramatic opening race at Laguna Seca in California.
The Kawasaki rider roared to his fifth career win at the legendary American circuit and tightened his grip on a sensational title race after main rival Alvaro Bautista incredibly crashed out yet again.
A delighted Rea, who now holds a 49-point gap at the top going into today's two races, said: "I want to thank all my crew because they gave me such a good bike. I felt good physically and I was hitting all my points.
"I could have rode the bike all day long and I was having so much fun," he added.
"I was having some tyre fade at the end but it wasn't a problem as the job was done. It's a massive privilege to be racing here in the sun in the USA and we'll try and repeat this performance tomorrow, but it won't be easy."
Spaniard Bautista, who won the first 11 races of the season on the factory Aruba.it Ducati to take the Championship by storm as a rookie in World Superbikes, slid out of third place when he was within striking distance of race leader Rea and his own Ducati team-mate Chaz Davies.
It was the fourth round in a row that Bautista has made a costly mistake, with the former MotoGP rider also crashing at Jerez, Misano and Donington Park.
The 34-year-old held a commanding advantage of 61 points over four-in-a-row champion Rea at Jerez in Spain, but Bautista now has a mountain to climb if he's to have any prospect of halting the Northern Ireland star's new-found title momentum.
Bautista managed to rejoin the race in 18th and last place following his crash at turn five. His misery was compounded when he was lapped by Rea, underpinning the remarkable contrast in fortunes experienced by the title leaders in recent weeks.
He eventually finished in 17th place as Rea inflicted maximum damage, pocketing all 25 points following his fifth victory on the spin.
After starting from pole - his first ever at Laguna Seca - Rea came under pressure from Welshman Davies and Bautista in the early stages of the race.
However, he was able to open a cushion on his Kawasaki ZX-10RR and he dictated matters from the front, pulling away to win by 5.6 seconds from Davies in the end.
Young Turkish prospect Toprak Razgatlioglu completed the podium places in a lonely third place ahead of England's Tom Sykes on the factory BMW.
Alex Lowes (PATA Yamaha) got the better of Jordi Torres (Pedercini Kawasaki) for fifth, with Michael van der Mark (PATA Yamaha) and Loris Baz (Ten Kate Yamaha) the first eight.
Toome's Eugene Laverty, competing in his first World Superbike race since he broke both wrists in a crash at Imola in Italy in May, finished 11th on the Team Go Eleven Ducati.
The Superpole sprint race takes place today at 19:00 BST with the second full-distance WSBK race at 22:00 BST.