WSBK: Jonathan Rea cool, calm and collected on eve of fourth world title bid
A composed Jonathan Rea is feeling cool, calm and collected as he weighs up the prospect of creating more World Superbike history at Magny-Cours in France.
The triple champion became the first rider ever to win the title in three consecutive seasons at the French circuit in 2017 and Rea is now focused on clinching an unprecedented championship quadruple.
Rea - fastest in the opening free practice session on Friday morning - is 116 points clear of nearest challenger Chaz Davies from Wales going into the 11th round of the series this weekend.
Should he manage to increase his advantage over the Aruba.it Ducati rider by a further nine points in Saturday's first race (12:00 BST), the 31-year-old will be crowned champion once more, putting him level with World Superbike legend Carl Fogarty on four titles.
Rea, who surpassed Fogarty’s record of 59 WSBK race wins earlier this season – upping his own tally to 66 after a double at Portimao in Portugal two weeks ago – says he will adopt a measured approach, although he admits that winning the title with a victory is the ‘fairy tale scenario’.
“I’m feeling really good, really relaxed. It’s been nice because I’ve been at home since Portimao and life has been a little bit quieter,” said Rea, who has won the last six World Superbike races in a row.
“The last three rounds have been incredible with double victories and coming here, the pressure is off a little bit. The target is to try and get the championship done here in France, but the way I am looking at it is that we have points in the pocket, so I don’t want to throw it all into making sure it gets done.
“We’ll just see what happens and make a judgement call during the races.”
With three championships already under his belt, Rea is in a familiar situation on the eve of his first chance to sew up a fourth title.
The Ballyclare man has seen it all before and while Rea is determined to get the job done in France, he won’t be setting out to win at all costs.
He said: “I’ve been in all situations before and I’ve gone in like a bull in a china shop to win the race, like here last year in the wet.
“But I’ve also done the opposite to win, like in 2015 when I finished fourth in Jerez; that was a really hollow feeling and even though I was champion, I finished off the podium and it was my worst result of the season.
“In my brain, the fairy tale is always to win the race to be champion but we just have to see how the weekend pans out.
“The other guys are really fast here as well, so hopefully we have a good Friday and we can make a game-plan from then,” he added.
“I’ll just take it as it comes really and try to enjoy it. I know if I have a good feeling with the bike and with the tyres, then we can race to win for sure.”
Rea crushed the opposition in the wet to wrap up the championship at Magny-Cours last year, taking victory by more than 16 seconds from Italy’s Macro Melandri.
However, he missed out on the chance to seal a double when he was forced to retire in the pits after clipping Eugene Laverty’s machine, who had crashed in front of him on the second lap in race two.
Davies – a double winner at Magny-Cours in 2016 – won the race by three seconds from Alex Lowes on the PATA Yamaha.
In order for Ulster star Rea to claim the championship in race one, Rea needs to end the day with a 125-point advantage over Davies in second position, which means he must score nine points more than his Ducati rival.
There are several scenarios: should Rea win his seventh race on the trot, Davies must finish in second place to delay the title celebrations until Sunday at least.
If Rea finishes as the runner-up, he would still be crowned champion if Davies finished in fifth place or lower; or if Rea finishes third, then he would require Davies to be ninth or lower at the finish.
If Rea has to wait until Sunday’s second race (14:15 BST), then he needs to end the weekend with a cushion of 100 points or more to put the championship to rest.
A total of 34 points from both races would guarantee the Northern Ireland rider the title in any scenario.
Meanwhile, Eugene Laverty is targeting a return to the podium following two top-three finishes at Laguna Seca and Misano prior to the summer break.
The Milwaukee Aprilia rider claimed pole position at Portimao in the last round, but Laverty was unwittingly wiped out on the opening lap another rider. He finished seventh in race two.
Laverty - ninth quickest in FP1 in France on Friday - said: “Off the back of three good rounds, which included a couple of podiums and a pole position last time, I want to try and keep that good run going.
“The good thing is that here at Magny-Cours the weather forecast is good, because whilst I like riding in the wet, this place is a bit treacherous.
“If the sun is out all weekend then we’ll get to work and try and get one of those podiums on the board,” he added.
“Portimao is so unique that we really had to change the bike for there, so we will go back to a setting more like we had at Misano for this weekend.
“The setting was good for an out and out lap time at Portimao, but we’ll have to leave what we had there and go back to what we used at Misano.”
After the French round of the championship, only four more races remain, with round 12 taking place in Argentina (October 12-14), followed by the finale at the Losail International Circuit, which will be held under the floodlights at night in Qatar (October 25-27).