World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea has opened a gap of 15 points at the top of the championship after storming to his third win in three races this season in Thailand.
The Ulster rider set a new Superpole record at the Chang International Circuit and shattered the race lap record in the opener on Saturday as he powered to a commanding victory on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR, leading home Ducati’s Chaz Davies by more than six seconds.
Rea’s team-mate, Tom Sykes, finished in third after passing Aruba Ducati’s Marco Melandri on the final lap, but there was nothing anyone could do about runaway winner Rea, who remains unbeaten so far in 2017 after opening his world title defence with a double at Phillip Island in Australia at the end of February.
The 30-year-old never looked back as he seized control from the first lap and Rea now holds a cushion of 15 points over Welshman Davies going into Sunday’s second race.
“I felt really good actually, quite calm – my guys gave me a great bike this weekend, so far. The race was good and that was my plan; we had a good pace but also Chaz did a very good pace and Marco, so I had the right of way into T1 and I wanted to make the holeshot and put my head down,” Rea said.
“I did it and it took a little bit for the chord to snap, but I think around lap five I had a good gap and then I just made a rhythm, not over-stressing, but just making my own job and it was enough to win.
“I’m really happy because last year we had a big fight with me, Tom and Chaz and the bike has improved a lot since last year and I’m really happy with that.”
Rea will start race two from the third row of the grid as a result of the new grid reversal rule changes implemented this year and he admits he will face a much stiffer task on Sunday.
“That’s biggest factor tomorrow because I knew today that my times were good enough to win, starting from pole,” he said.
“Tomorrow’s going to be much harder, coming from the third row here on a track where it’s really hard to pass. It’s going to be tough and we had to maximise today. I think the pace in the 1’33s surprised me a little all the race and I didn’t expect to do that: I didn’t do that throughout practice and today’s been the hottest day, so tyre consumption was good and the bike has been working well.
“Tomorrow is going to be hard to make that same rhythm in traffic but the idea is to get to the front group as fast as I can and suss out where I can make moves and do that best that I can.”
Rea is gunning for a record third consecutive world title this year, which would be unprecedented in the history of the championship.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Eugene Laverty looked set to finish in seventh place on the Milwaukee Aprilia until a terminal problem with the RSV4 forced him to retire on the last lap of the race.
It was a cruel blow for Laverty, who is back in the series this year after two seasons in MotoGP.