WSBK: Rea keeping his focus as world title looms

Kawasaki's Jonathan Rea can clinch an unprecedented third World Superbike crown this weekend in France.
Kawasaki's Jonathan Rea can clinch an unprecedented third World Superbike crown this weekend in France.

Victory in Saturday’s opening World Superbike race will see Jonathan Rea crowned champion for an unprecedented third year in a row.

By lunchtime tomorrow, the Ulster rider could be a triple world champion, becoming the only rider ever in history to achieve three World Superbike titles on the trot.

However, with rain in the forecast, it may not be plain sailing for the Kawasaki rider, who holds an almost insurmountable lead of 120 points over team-mate Tom Sykes with six races in total remaining and a maximum of 150 points on the table.

Should track conditions prove wet, the margin for error widens significantly, although Rea has shown himself to be equally adept at riding in the rain as he is in the dry.

His 12th victory of 2017 in the opener (12:00 BST) would be enough to draw a line under the championship, although Rea could still lift the title without winning the race.

Should he finish second, Yorkshireman Sykes would need to finish fourth or lower, or if the Ballyclare man fills the final podium place in third, then Sykes will need to finish the race in fifth position or lower to have no mathematical chance of the title.

The prospect of Rea finishing outside the top three is an unlikely one, with the two-time champion only missing out on a podium on one occasion in 20 races this year. His sole DNF was taken out of his hands when a rear tyre problem caused him to crash at Donington Park earlier in the season.

Rea also has a strong record at Magny-Cours, sealing a double in 2015 on the Ninja ZX-10R and finishing second in race two last year.

Sykes, whose own title bid was fatally derailed in the previous round when he missed both races in Portugal through injury, twice finished third last year in France, when Welshman Chaz Davies won both races on the Aruba.it Ducati.

Everything seems tilted in Rea’s favour, but in motorcycling nothing can ever be taken for granted and the champion elect is too experienced to look beyond the task in hand this weekend.

“Our 2017 package is really strong and I think for us, we need to remain focused on the next rounds and then start thinking about 2018,” he said.

“It’s important not to lose focus because we still have a really hard job to do. The championship lead is massive now and we can go to Magny-Cours thinking about trying to win it in France.

“If we have a solid enough weekend in Magny-Cours we can get it done.”

If Rea comes up short on Saturday, he will have another bite at the cherry in race two on Sunday to put the outcome beyond doubt with two rounds of the championship still remaining at Jerez Spain and Losail in Qatar – two circuits where Rea has surprisingly never tasted success.

He said: “Jerez and Qatar are probably the only circuits where I have never won a Superbike race, so the big target is to try and win.

“In November we have a long test at Jerez and then we go back there in January, so before Phillip Island [in 2018] we will have many kilometres under our belts and we’ll be ready.”

His fellow countryman, Eugene Laverty, claimed his best result of the season at Portimao on the Milwaukee Aprilia, where he also qualified on the front row for race one.

Laverty’s goal before the season is out remains to finish on the rostrum for the first time since his return to the series this year on the Italian machine.

“Portimao was our best result of the year and the closest we have been to the race winner,” he said.

“We had a good test on Monday also, so we’re on the right track and looking to progress with three rounds left.

“Magny-Cours should be good for us because the rear tyre is usually consistent for the whole race.

“That could all change if it rains though, and it looks set to rain all day on Saturday, which will be a challenge.

“The grip of the tarmac here will be a benefit, though we are still missing some traction out of the slow corners but it’s an area we are improving.

“We’ll be working hard towards the podium which is the aim this weekend.”