Jonathan Rea Tops World Superbike Race 1 At Laguna Seca

Ducati’s Chaz Davies finishes second, teammate Álvaro Bautista crashes.

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki, Laguna Seca, World Superbike
Jonathan Rea (1) and Chaz Davies (7) qualified first and second at Laguna Seca, separated on the starting grid by just 0.009 second. The pair then battled under sunny skies for nearly half of the 25-lap race distance, at which point Rea had opened a one-second gap.Nic Coury/photographnic.com

The drama of this season has been Álvaro Bautista's early and seemingly effortless dominance on Ducati's new V4 R, followed by his crashes and four-time champion Jonathan Rea's resumption of the title lead. But for this weekend, the big change has been the return to form of Chaz Davies, also on factory V4 R, who was constantly near the top in Saturday's practice and qualifying.

The front row for today’s 25-lap race 1 was Rea, Davies, and Bautista. Rea won the start to enter the 180-degree left turn 2 first, but thereafter it was Davies who was tight to his tail, lap after lap. On lap 5, Davies pushed ahead into turn 2 but Rea returned the favor quickly.

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki, Laguna Seca, World Superbike
Rea collected 25 points for his victory on Saturday. Another 37 are available on Sunday via the 10-lap Superpole sprint and 25-lap race 2. “I could feel the Ducati riders getting closer,” he admitted on Saturday. “It’s a difficult track to pass, so I just tried to not make any mistakes; lap by lap, as boring as it is, keep hitting my points and keep the same rhythm.”Nic Coury/photographnic.com

It has been speculated that Bautista goes well on tracks where he has long experience but crashes while feeling for the edge elsewhere. That was an early chapter of today’s story, as he lowsided out of third place into the gravel at turn 5 on lap five.

The tight one-two continued, with third place now held by the mild-faced but strongly intent Turkish rider Toprak Razgatlıoğlu some seconds back.

Rea’s lap times held constant at mid-1:23s from lap four to 11. He said, “I took three laps to get my rhythm, and I could have ridden the bike [like that] all day long.”

Toprak Razgatlıoğlu, Puccetti Racing, Kawasaki, World Superbike, Laguna Seca
Third in Saturday’s race, his fifth podium in as many rounds, Toprak Razgatlıoğlu (right) celebrated with 2009 World Superbike Champion Ben Spies. “Yesterday, Free Practice 2, not good feeling,” he said. “But this morning, we changed the setup, feeling good. In the race, I tried to follow Johnny—not possible. I’m happy because last year, big crash. Today, podium.”DMT Imaging

Meanwhile, we knew Davies had chosen Pirelli’s SCX rear slick, a super-soft “pre-qualifier” tire intended for the 10-lap Superpole sprint. Because some riders had tried in previous races to see if it could go race distance, it was given a compound upgrade. Here was Davies, giving it a try.

Rea’s lead remained fractional lap after lap. “I was getting a lot of [pitboard] signals—plus point one, plus point two,” he said.

To the onlooker, this was an agonizing process, looking as though Davies might make another move at almost any time. Yet his bike was also showing the occasional little wiggles that can indicate gradual loss of grip.

Alvaro Bautista, Ducati, Laguna Seca, World Superbike
Álvaro Bautista’s race effectively lasted five laps, ending in turn 5. Teammate Davies chose the supersoft Pirelli SCX rear slick but won’t use it again on Sunday. “Not for the long race,” he said, noting this was the first time he had used that tire for a race of this length. “But I put distance on it over the course of a couple of practices, so I thought I could make it. And it was working very good.”DMT Imaging

From lap 17 to 22, Rea lost a half-second of pace, or in his words, “Then, the rear traction went. After I was able to make more of a gap, [Davies] was in more problems than me.”

Davies agreed, saying on the podium, “My tire dropped and his stayed more constant.”

Rea led by 1.8 seconds by lap 16 and commented later that, “I had the job done.”

Razgatlıoğlu was meanwhile holding station in third, some 6 seconds back. His pace, while good, was no threat to Davies in second. As so many times in recent past years, this race was a Kawasaki-Ducati affair, with the others present mainly as extras, out of real contention.

Tom Sykes, BMW, World Superbike, Laguna Seca
Like Davies, Tom Sykes chose the SCX rear slick. “We took a bit of a gamble on that tire,” he admitted. “We’re still trying things on the new BMW S 1000 RR. Fourth position is really good, because the weekend has been difficult. We had to find a good electronic setup, mess around with gearing, and then find a little bit of traction.”DMT Imaging

Rea, the “chronometric man,” rolled home to win with a final 5.7-second advantage. After 25 laps, the top five were Rea, Davies, Razgatlioglu, Tom Sykes, and Alex Lowes.

Sykes, now on factory BMW, commented that his new ride treats its tires well and is ready for a step forward in power. He was genial and spoke loudly and enthusiastically.

When a German correspondent asked Rea how he would deal with Bautista's series of recent crashes, he replied, "I think you're asking me how I manage, but I have no idea. I remember Neil Tuxworth [years ago] taking me in the office and it wasn't pleasant." (Tuxworth managed the British Superbike team for whom Rea raced in the mid-2000s.)

Tomorrow, two more races remain to run—the 10-lap Superpole race and 25-lap race 2. With the haul of data from race 1, you can be sure that the teams are right now searching for ways to move their setups forward another step.