Jonathan Rea turned the tables on his World Superbike title rivals with a sublime Sunday double at Estoril in Portugal.
The six-time champion had to settle for third in Saturday’s opening race behind championship leader Alvaro Bautista (Ducati) and reigning champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha), but Rea bounced back in style yesterday.
He made Razgatlioglu pay for a mistake on the last lap of the Superpole race, when the Turkish rider almost crashed after losing the front of his Yamaha.
Rea took full advantage and although Razgatlioglu pulled off a miraculous save on his elbow to recover, the Northern Ireland rider won on the line by 0.174s on the damp but drying track, while Bautista came home in a safe third.
The final race of the weekend developed into a showdown between Rea and Bautista after Razgatlioglu dropped out of contention when his rear tyre began to lose grip.
Bautista’s Ducati had a distinct top-speed advantage on the long straight, but Rea pulled out all the stops on the final lap to complete his brace.
The 35-year-old made the decisive pass at the chicane and survived a massive slide around the final turn to clinch his 117th career World Superbike victory by 0.194s from the Spaniard, who remains on top of the standings by 17 points after the first three rounds.
Rea said: “I played my cards, especially on the last lap. The race was quite stressful. We had this sea mist all race, especially in the last section of the circuit, going into Turns 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, so my visor was full of water and after a few laps behind Toprak, we had grip so I just convinced myself that it was dry.
“When Alvaro came past, it was like a seriousness of the race just switched on, so I knew I had to be there, to go with him.
“He did a really good job and I could use his slipstream on the start straight just to claw back a few kilometres, even though he was going away it was just enough to keep me there,” he added.
“My mechanical traction from Turn 6 was incredible. I parked the bike on the apex of Turn 7 and saw what I could do. He cut back again and then I thought about the chicane. Just go, park it on the apex, and try to cover my line. It was enough although I had a big slide at the last corner. It was really, really exciting especially when you come out on top in a race like that.”
Bautista has been revitalised after returning to Ducati following two lacklustre seasons at Honda.
The former MotoGP rider battled with Rea for the world title in 2019 when he last rode for Ducati, and the 37-year-old is now right back in contention once more after re-joining the Italian manufacturer following Scott Redding’s move to BMW.
“I felt that my pace was a bit better than Toprak and Johnny, and I tried to be at the front,” said Bautista.
“In the chicane, I closed the door but he opened the door – there was not too much space to pass but he tried, and at the end it’s a difficult corner to recover the position, so I lost a little bit on that movement and I cannot have another chance to pass here.
“It started to rain a bit on the last corner and it was more difficult, but in any case I am happy because I was fighting for the victory again and I’m so happy with how the championship is going.”
Eugene Laverty finished 15th on Saturday and crashed out of the Superpole race yesterday on the Bonovo Action BMW. The Toome man was able to compete in race two and finished in 14th.
Round four of the series takes place at Misano in Italy from June 10-12.
Race One: 1 A Bautista (Ducati); 2 T Razgatlioglu (Yamaha) +0.126s; 3 J Rea (Kawasaki) +4.835s; 4 A Locatelli (Yamaha) +17.079s; 5 X Vierge (Honda) +19.107s; 6 I Lecuona (Honda) +19.215s
Superpole Race: 1 J Rea (Kawasaki); 2 T Razgatlioglu (Yamaha) +0.174s; 3 A Bautista (Ducati) +4.925s; 4 I Lecuona (Honda) +7.050s; 5 A Locatelli (Yamaha) +8.240s; 6 A Lowes (Kawasaki) +8.684s.
Race Two: 1 J Rea (Kawasaki); 2 A Bautista (Ducati) +0.194s; 3 T Razgatlioglu (Yamaha) +4.350s; 4 A Lowes (Kawasaki) +7.125s; 5 A Locatelli (Yamaha) +8.232s; 6 I Lecuona (Honda) +8.309s.