Belfast Telegraph

We've taken a knife to a gunfight, says Jonathan Rea as World Superbike rival powers ahead

Front runner: Jonathan Rea leads race three in yesterday’s World Superbikes opener in Australia but finished in second place
Front runner: Jonathan Rea leads race three in yesterday’s World Superbikes opener in Australia but finished in second place

By Roy Harris

Jonathan Rea likened the contest between his Kawasaki and the powerful new 2019 season Ducati as "taking a knife to a gunfight."

But Rea will battle on in his bid for a fifth successive world title in the belief that riding skill will overcome sheer horsepower.

Rea was speaking after the opening round of the 2019 World Superbike Championship at Phillip Island saw the defending champion come away with three second place finishes in the new format of races.

His anticipated major rival this season, Alvaro Bautista, on the all-new factory Ducati V4 R, scored three wins to leave Australia with a 13-point lead in the series, but there is still a long way to go, another 12 rounds to be precise for Kawasaki and Jonathan to recover lost ground.

Templepatrick based Rea acknowledged: "Respect to Alvaro, he was on a different level this weekend. I am sure the technical guys are pulling their hair out because it is very easy to see from TV the advantage they have."

In Saturday's opener, class-rookie, but no stranger to Phillip Island from his MotoGP days, Bautista streaked to an almost 15 second victory over Rea, who had two seconds to spare over Marco Melandri in third after Leon Haslam crashed unhurt when battling with Rea.

Toome's Eugene Laverty was down in 12th after a power generator problem left him with 2-bar of pressure and no rear tyre grip.

Yesterday saw the new 10-lap Superpole Sprint race and the gloves were off as Bautista and Rea produced a thriller from lights out to the chequered flag.

Rea led, Bautista swept past him on the home straight with a seemingly speed advantage for the Ducati, but Rea fought back and the Spaniard wasn't able to break away, the pair swapping position with some breathtaking high-speed overtaking manoeuvres.

At the chequered flag, Bautista held off Rea by 1.176 secs to take the inaugural Sprint race victory and the 12 points on offer with Rea collecting nine for second.

Haslam was almost four seconds back in third, Laverty improving to ninth.

The second main 22-lap race yesterday saw Bautista streak away into the lead as Haslam and Rea had to settle with a battle for second that the British Superbike champion seemed to be winning until Rea closed the gap with eight laps remaining.

The pair then swapped position some nine times before Rea eventually secured his third runner-up spot of the weekend, 12 seconds behind Bautista and a quarter of a second ahead of Haslam.

Laverty was as high as sixth at one stage, but again finished in ninth position.

Rea said after yesterday's races: "We made a little change to make the bike a little bit calmer and I feel we achieved that. Our race time was faster and I'm happy with the results this weekend. Yes, I'm a little disappointed because the gap to the front is too much. We expected a difficult race here, so to come away with three second places, pole position and an outright fastest lap in the Superpole race, I'm satisfied.

"Of course, there is still work to do and I had the same frame of mind from race one to race two and that was trying to get to the end of the races and not abuse the tyre."

For Laverty's part, his Team GoEleven are still developing the new Ducati V4 R and he commented: "I am very happy with the progress made this weekend. Ninth in yesterday's two races was a great step forward.

"The team worked hard all weekend and we have started the season with three solid results. I am confident going forward that there is much more to come from us."

The championship now moves to Thailand and the Chang Circuit for round two on March 15-17.

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