Six rounds down, seven to go (at least officially) in the 2021 World Superbike season, and Jonathan Rea is leading the championship – no shock there. What is more surprising is that the gap between the six-time world champion and his closest rival Toprak Razgatlioglu is three points.
This follows a toughest round for the Kawasaki rider who only gave up two third places and Rea’s lowest three-race score, 23 points, since the three-race format was introduced in 2019.
And the reality is, if Garrett Gerloff hadn’t done Rea a big favor at Assen by knocking out his Yamaha teammate Razgatlioglu at Turn 1 in the final race, Rea would consider a potential 27-point deficit to the rider. Turkish man armed with a bicycle. it is no longer the conquering weapon it once was.
You can also say that Razgatlioglu was lucky that Rea crashed in Race 1 at Most, registering his second ‘zero’ of the season after the last race at Donington Park, but once again Rea’s crash on the bumps of Turn 1 over the eccentric Czech Republic. track was an unforced error in the heat of the moment against Razgatlioglu.
“I could have sailed around a podium, but I want to fight, that’s my character,” was Rea’s assessment of the situation. Few would say he was wrong to push hard, but the reality now is that Ulsterman must dig deeper than ever in order to contain a new threat in the form of Razgatlioglu.
Recalling the events leading up to the crash in Most, Rea said, “I can’t get past him. I can’t pass the Yamaha on the straight, I can’t pass Toprak on the brakes. We had a lot of traction so I was able to do different things and get closer. But I did not see where to pass and advance.
“Before, I had the luxury of being able to pass in a straight line. But I take 110% of the package off every lap of every race, and when you do that you’re at the limit. Now the competition is very high. Some days we can work the magic, some days it is more difficult.
A few years ago, Rea had pointed out the likely emergence of Razgatlioglu as the greatest potential threat to his dominance. Indeed, without wanting to belittle the efforts of Scott Redding last year, this season marks the first time Rea has faced a sustained challenge from a rider much younger than him, and arguably just as talented.
Of course, Rea had to fight to turn the tide against Alvaro Bautista in 2019, when the all-new Ducati Panigale V4 R swept it all away at the start of the season. But there seemed to be a certain calm in Rea’s driving during this time, as evidenced by his impeccable run of second places behind Bautista.
There haven’t been any instances where Rea has crashed or made any significant mistakes while trying to achieve the impossible. And once the Ducati hit tracks less well suited to its MotoGP-derived machine, Rea took advantage, stepped up the pressure on Bautista and eventually reached a fifth world championship as the Spaniard’s challenge imploded. dramatically.
The dynamics this time around are different. Rea has crashed in two of the last seven races, each time against Razgatlioglu, which is pretty much unprecedented in the Rea / Kawasaki era. In the Superpole race at Most Rea, he also continued straight on Turn 1 in pursuit of Razgatlioglu, which probably cost him second place and five other valuable points.
Part of this is due to the machinery. Kawasaki introduced a heavily updated ZX-10RR base model for this year that appeared to be class of the peloton during the first rounds at Aragon and Estoril, but since then the bike seems to have stagnated somewhat while rivals in the brand, in particular Yamaha, were able to progress.
It’s not that the bike is slow per se; after all, Rea has been the fastest in the Superpole every round so far. Rather, it is motorcycle racing that seems to be causing the 34-year-old rider a headache.
“The 2021 Kawasaki model is for sure a step forward,” Rea summed up to Most. “We also have good assets. The bike is stable on the brakes, we have a lot of mechanical traction. When we’re not in traffic, we can be quick. I feel good with the bike, with the chassis, but we don’t take the same steps as our rivals.
Perhaps a more reliable barometer for the true level of Kawasaki performance is Rea’s factory teammate Alex Lowes, who has only climbed the podium once since the season opener. and failed to finish higher than sixth at Assen – where Rea’s genius seemed to fill in the gaps in his machine – or at most.
Then there’s the thorny question of what Rea believes an unfairly severe rev limit placed on the ZX-10RR at the start of the season, which he spoke to Aragon about.
“Sometimes I have feelings for Kawasaki,” he repeated. “They pushed hard to bring a new bike, which is not easy with the economic situation, and the FIM sees that it is not a significant enough change. so they penalize us again. We have the lowest spinning bike by far.
“We can compete in the factory team because we have a great team, but imagine being a Kawasaki customer team. It’s hard to compete near the front. [for independent teams in general] but then you get this penalty. We have a better weapon [than last year] and it could be even better, but unfortunately the regulations do not allow it.
Rea was keen to point out a particular weakness of the Kawasaki this year, its departures from Yamaha and Ducati. While Rea has started on pole 16 times out of 18 this year, he has only led the first lap seven times; Unlike last year, where he only started on pole 13 times out of 24 possible, but led the first lap 15 times.
“I’m a little frustrated with our departures to be honest,” Rea admitted. “Last year I was able to cut the hole a lot, even from the second row, but this year the Yamaha is blazing fast in first and second gears, and the Ducati has the power. So if we have a long straight on Turn 1, I don’t stand a chance. “
He added that working on improving starts was “a priority” for a two-day test that Kawasaki has scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Whatever happens over the remainder of the season, 2021 will be remembered as the year the traditional Kawasaki-Ducati duopoly in WSBK was finally opened. While Razgatlioglu showed flashes of promise in his debut season on a Yamaha last year, including winning at Phillip Island and Estoril, elsewhere the R1 lacked consistency.
Obviously this is no longer the case – and that is not to mention the milestones achieved by Razgatlioglu himself, who in his fourth season at this level has become a runner capable not only of creating surprises, but of fighting for victories everywhere.
His angry reaction to Gerloff’s elimination at Assen, and his tough last lap pass over Redding for the win in last weekend’s first race in Most, tells you everything you need to know about Desire. to become the only Yamaha. second WSBK champion after 2009 title winner Ben Spies.
The bad news for Rea is that Razgatlioglu has pledged to stay in World Superbike with Yamaha for another two years, so even if the Kawasaki man finds a way to win seven titles in a row, the battle will rage between the two. of them. into the next season and beyond.
Based on current evidence, the fight between Rea and Razgatlioglu appears to be coming to an end. With the exception of the 2019 anomaly, the smallest points buffer Rea has had on the opposition after six rounds since joining Kawasaki had been the 42 point advantage he held over Chaz Davies. in 2016.
While the Rea era itself may not yet be quite over, the days of it winning with the consummate ease that WSBK viewers have become accustomed to seems to have finally come to an end.