Jonathan Rea hails 'massive' win to cut gap in World Superbike Championship as five in a row dream is back on track
Jonathan Rea clinched a delightful double in contrasting weather conditions to slash Alvaro Bautista's World Superbike Championship lead from 41 points to just 16 during a dramatic weekend of racing at Misano in Italy.
Spaniard Bautista - aiming to ruin Rea's dream of five world titles in a row - crashed while in the lead in the final race and scored just two points for a 14th-placed finish.
Rea won a very wet and treacherous race one for Kawasaki from pole position on Saturday. The race was delayed and then red-flagged due to the torrential rain, the Ulsterman taking victory over the shortened distance after Alex Lowes crashed out when leading.
Rea said: "Nothing beats that winning feeling and to win here in Misano, where I won my first ever World Superbike race 10 years ago, was special and then to win the last race and close on Alvaro in the Championship was massive."
Yesterday's conditions were ideal, with Bautista winning the Superpole Sprint race with an emphatic display.
Rea crashed when in second place, but remounted after he clung onto the bars of his Kawasaki ZX-10RR as it flipped over him. He lost little time in getting going again and crossed the finish line in fifth position and, at that point, was 39 points behind in the Championship.
However, in a sensational final race yesterday, Bautista inexplicably crashed just after taking the lead on lap two, losing the front end. He remounted to finish 14th.
That left Rea, Leon Haslam and Turkish rider Toprak Razgatlioglu in an all-Kawasaki battle for the lead.
Haslam, after leading, dropped off the pace and Toprak took the lead. Rea shadowed him, and finally made his move to the front with four laps remaining.
Ever-improving 22-year-old Razgatlioglu wasn't giving up, however, and almost tagged the back of Rea's machine on a couple of occasions when trying to out-brake the champion.
It was a head-to-head battle on the final lap and the young Turk just got his nose in front momentarily at Turn 8, but ran wide and allowed Rea back ahead.
Rea defended superbly to hold onto the lead and take his 75th and arguably most important World Superbike victory by 0.3 seconds, and his 150th podium. Haslam hung onto third position to make it a Kawasaki podium lock-out for the first time since 1993.
Bautista now has 330 points with Rea on 314, setting up an enthralling second half to the season which begins at Rea's home round of Donington Park on the weekend of July 5-7.
An emotional Rea said after his massive second win: "I'm so, so happy. It wasn't easy out there; the tyres were moving about quite a lot and I was missing a bit of traction.
"To win two races, albeit with a silly mistake by me in the Superpole race, we have salvaged a good weekend. Every race is an important race for me and my team.
"There's still a long way to go and all we can do is be consistent, keep improving, avoid mistakes and take any opportunities if they arise."
Meanwhile, the Dunlop Masters continued at Mondello Park over the weekend with Cullybackey's Luke Johnston scoring two wins and a second in the Superbike class to move within two points of leader Richie Ryan.
Rhys Irwin was a double winner in the Supersport races with Dave Butler winning race one by two hundredths of a second, while Ross Irwin, the older brother of Graham, Glenn and Andrew, scored a treble in the Supertwin class.