Defending champion Jonathan Rea credited his team’s hard work in the off-season for his victory in Saturday’s opening race of the 2016 World Superbike Championship.
The Northern Irishman didn’t exactly set the world alight in the first preseason test of the year in Spain, but his engineers – led by crew-chief Pere Riba – went back to the drawing board and came up with the perfect solution to ensure Rea was highly competitive at Phillip Island.
“We expected to be strong,” Rea told Crash.net. “I’m so lucky with Pere and my guys. We made a strategy for the winter tests in November and it’s clear that it worked.
“Today to be strong and stay in front at this track is so difficult. I rolled the throttle with Tom at the beginning and then he rolled again to allow me to go through. Then it was difficult. Every lap at MG I saw the size of the group.
“When it dropped to four guys and then three in the end with van der Mark and Chaz I put my head down with six to go but still [saw] ‘ 0’. I relaxed then with three to go I made another push [and did] mid-1m 31s for a few laps. Chaz was still there.
“The only way for me to win the race was to close the door at Honda hairpin and MG but I closed the door at MG and he blew it completely wide open. I managed to stop the bike, fire it out. It wasn’t a pretty last sector but we managed to win the race and get 25 points. I’m really happy because all our work paid off.”
Rea wasn’t at all surprised at Chaz Davies was his chief pursuer over the closing laps, despite the Welshman only qualifying in ninth.
“Surprised to see Chaz? If you watch Superbike racing you can never be surprised to see Chaz,” he said. “No matter where he qualifies he’s always one of the guys. He’s here now and he won’t mind me saying that in the black and white he wasn’t looking too clever in the last days but he’s that kind of guy.
“You can never discount him because no matter what the chronological analysis says he’s always there on Sunday. It’s nice because he’s a good fighter and I like to fight in the race and in the end it was nice.”
Rea also said he expected Davies to try and pass him into turn four of the final lap, but knew he had the pace to deal with him.
“I expected it in T4 to be honest but I put together a really strong T1 and T2 so I knew if he was going to be coming in T4 it’d be a big pass. Basically as much as I tried to defend I knew I just had to ride my limit. If I braked on the limit in these corners then it was clear he would run wide.
“I’ve been lucky because Kawasaki has worked so hard for me in the winter. In the end we’re really happy with the bike. It’s clear that we have a little bit more speed than last year compared to some of our rivals. It made staying in the front here easier, especially with the head wind on the front straight.”