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Jonathan Rea: I face a big fight for my sixth title as World Superbike series restarts

 

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Setting off: Jonathan Rea at Phillip Island before the coronavirus-enforced lockdown

Setting off: Jonathan Rea at Phillip Island before the coronavirus-enforced lockdown

Getty Images

Eugene Laverty

Eugene Laverty

Getty Images

Setting off: Jonathan Rea at Phillip Island before the coronavirus-enforced lockdown

After an enforced five-month shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, World Superbike racing returns this weekend at Jerez in Spain, with Northern Ireland's five-time world champion Jonathan Rea and his Kawasaki team primed and ready to pursue a record sixth title.

At the same time, countryman Eugene Laverty knows he has to up his game on the factory BMW, while 22-year-old Aghadowey rider Eunan McGlinchey has stepped up to the World Supersport 300 Championship with his Cork-based Team #109.

The final eight rounds of the Championship have been crammed into a four-month period. However, the focus of the riders will still be the same - WSBK glory, with the high temperatures expected at Jerez certain to play a major part in the three-race weekend.

Round one of the Championship at Phillip Island in February saw three different winners in Superbikes, with Toprak Razgatlioglu taking race one for Yamaha - a race that saw Rea crash out at high speed after a first-lap coming together with Tom Sykes.

Rea pipped Razgatlioglu to win the sprint race and then failed by 0.037 of a second to catch team-mate Alex Lowes in the final race of the weekend.

After the Australian round, the Championship looks like this - 1. Lowes 51pts, 2. Scott Redding 39pts, 3. Razgatlioglu 34pts, 4. Rea 32pts, 5. Michael van der Mark 31pts and 6. Alvaro Bautista 20pts.

Now the Championship is set to burst into life once again, with 33-year-old Templepatrick rider Rea saying: "I'm excited to be going racing again after this long break in the calendar. I have been able to familiarise myself with our ZX-10RR Kawasaki and enjoy the buzz of riding again during two recent tests at Misano and Montmelo, both of which were very positive.

"I enjoy Jerez, it is a great circuit. Of course, it will be strange not to have any fans in the grandstands and a low-key paddock atmosphere, but I'm looking forward to whatever is in store."

Rea is coy about his main opposition, saying: "You cannot discount anybody. It would be a bit disrespectful at this point, with the challenge coming from anywhere."

British Superbike champion Redding, on the Ducati, has a lot of experience around Jerez and could be the main threat to Rea's ambitions of winning a sixth World Championship in a row.

Lowes has already proved his speed, Razgatlioglu and Van der Mark on the well-improved Yamahas will be challenging for race wins, while the all-new Hondas of Leon Haslam and Bautista are a threat, as is Loris Baz on the Ten Kate Yamaha and Chaz Davies on the second Ducati.

Laverty and Sykes are basically going head-to-head each race to be the top BMW rider and secure a place in the team for 2021.

Laverty had a torrid Phillip Island where an off in the morning warm-up left him with concussion. He was a non-starter in races two and three after finishing 11th in the opener.

The Toomebridge man is philosophical about the situation he finds himself in, saying: "I know the situation and I'm going to have to change my strategy.

"I need to qualify better on the Q tyre to move myself up the grid and give myself a better chance in the races. Podiums have to be my main target but, make no mistake, I will be going all out from race one at Jerez to prove my worth."

Another young man to watch out for this weekend in the World Supersport 300cc Championship is 22-year-old Aghadowey rider McGlinchey, who rides for the Cork-based Team #109 on a Kawasaki Ninja 400.

This is a huge step up for McGlinchey, the 2018 British Junior Supersport champion, but it also represents a golden opportunity to prove his undoubted ability on the world stage.

√ The Isle of Wight will stage a four-day road racing festival at the end of next season, with the new Diamond Races aiming to follow in the tyre tracks of the Isle of Man TT.

Set on a 12.4-mile course that runs through the villages of Chale, Kingston Shorwell and Brighstone that includes a five-mile stretch on the Military Road overlooking the south-west coast, the Diamond Races will feature Superbike, Supersport and Lightweight races on an annual basis from October 2021.

Belfast Telegraph