Just got personal: Jonathan Rea ramps up 2019 season after leading final two-day test
Despite the appearance of the much-heralded Ducati V4 at the final two-day World Superbike test at Jerez in Spain, it was record-breaking four-time world champion Jonathan Rea who laid down a marker going into the winter break.
The Ulsterman recorded a sensational lap of one minute, 38.713 seconds on his upgraded Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10RR, the only sub-1m 39sec lap of the entire test.
On Twitter, Rea also made sure his intentions for the 2019 campaign were clear. He picked up on quotes attributed to Ducati General Manager Luigi dall'Igna, saying that the manufacturer was out to beat Rea himself next year, the Ballyclare man didn't back down:
Second fastest in the two-day test was the Pata Yamaha of Alex Lowes, 0.664sec behind Rea, with new Kawasaki recruit Leon Haslam third fastest. He was four tenths behind Lowes despite a big crash on Monday that left him with only one bike yesterday.
The Ducati V4s of Alvaro Bautista, who crashed uninjured twice yesterday, and Chaz Davies were fourth and fifth respectively. They were separated by seven thousandths of a second, but over a second behind Rea.
He said: "These two days were about getting to understand how the new bike works and trying to keep moving forward, continuing to work on getting the chassis in tune with the engine. The new bike offers even more potential than the 2018 model and we go into the Christmas break having made good progress. To be fastest is a bonus."
Meanwhile, Rea's fellow Ulsterman Eugene Laverty, recently signed by the Go Eleven Ducati World Superbike team, will have to wait until the New Year for his first taste of Panigale V4 power.
The team will not receive their new machine until January, which means that the Toomebridge rider will be somewhat behind by the time the pre-season test and first two races of the 2019 campaign at Phillip Island, Australia come in February.
Laverty said: "It will be a long wait until I get to try the new Ducati V4, but I have been watching the lap times of Chaz Davies and Alvaro Bautista from Jerez and they made me smile.
"Both are on the pace, and it excites me knowing that one of those two bikes will be wheeled into our garage come January."
• Ballinamallard's Josh Elliott will return to the British Superbike Championship in 2019 with the OMG Suzuki squad to ride alongside Luke Mossey following the departure of Gino Rea.
Elliott, the 2015 Superstock 1000cc champion, joined OMG ahead of the fourth round of the 2018 Superstock 1000cc Championship, taking the team's first ever win at Thruxton.
Six podiums later he was promoted to the premier class of BSB from Assen onwards and ran inside the top 10 during the final races at Brands Hatch.
The 24-year-old said: "I'm so happy to be riding for OMG Racing in BSB next season. This is something I have been working hard for and I'm very grateful to the owners and team principal Paul Curran for giving me this opportunity. It's shaping up to be an ultra-competitive season next year and I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Elliott is already in Spain to begin testing at Cartagena to build on what both he and the OMG team learned last season.
Elliott joins a strong Ulster contingent in BSB - the Irwin brothers Glenn and Andrew, Keith Farmer and David Allingham.
• The Dutch Ten Kate Honda team that gave Rea his big break and first win in World Superbikes has been declared bankrupt, the result of a switch by Honda to Moriwaki and Althea to run their campaign in 2019.
Rea said: "I feel bad for the team as they flew the Honda flag when the factory wasn't interested in WSB, but now when they are interested, Ten Kate get left aside.
"I spent a lot of time there and the team has a soft spot in my heart."