As expected, Jonathan Rea clinched his fourth successive World Superbike Championship at Magny Cours in France at the weekend and it was another masterclass from the Kawasaki rider with two dominant performances. The rest of the field were again trailing in his wake and there’ll certainly need to spend the winter months wisely in order to get the better of the Ulsterman next year.
Four of a kind
Rea dictated proceedings once more at the French circuit to make it eight wins in a row – and 14 for the season – and wrap up the title with two rounds to spare. Already the most successful rider in history in terms of race wins, more records were set by the 31-year old as he became the first rider to take four titles in a row and also broke Troy Corser’s long-standing record of 130 podiums with his race two victory making it podium number 131.
Having already proven the reverse grid for race two was no handicap, further rule changes came into place this year and whilst the opening two rounds saw some close racing and different winners, it didn’t take Rea and his Kawasaki team long to reassert their authority. The unheard of fourth and fifth place finishes at Phillip Island and Thailand were quickly replaced by first and second instead.
Having already scored 470 points, his advantage over second-placed Chaz Davies is a mammoth 135 points and with 100 points still available at the final two rounds, few would bet against him breaking his own record total of 556 points set just 12 months ago.
It’s a crying shame he never got the opportunity in MotoGP – where surely his undeniable talent would have seen him succeed – but for whatever reason, an opportunity with a competitive package never arose. The next target, therefore, is to become the first rider in World Superbike history to win five world titles and unless something radical happens in 2019, that’s almost a certainty.
V4 to revitalise Ducati’s fortunes?
Despite sitting in second and fifth at present in the Championship, it hasn’t been a glowing season for Italian giant Ducati with riders Davies and Marco Melandri taking just four wins between them to leave them a fair way short of Rea’s level.
Ducati announced some time ago that their all-new V4 would replace the Panigale for 2019 so with development on the V-Twin subsequently having slowed down, Davies and Melandri have had to make do with what they’ve got – and it clearly hasn’t been a strong enough package to challenge for the title.
Melandri will be replaced by former Moto3 World Champion and MotoGP podium finisher Alvaro Bautista next year and although Davies recently made the bold statement that neither Rea nor Kawasaki have seen the best of him or Ducati yet, they’ll need to make a major step forward if that’s to happen.
The development work that’s been on-going behind the scenes this year will need to have been on point whilst the new pairing will have to make the most of the winter tests to ensure they hit the ground running in 2019 and not allow Rea to dictate and build up a huge lead as he has done in recent seasons.
Race for second
Davies currently sits in second overall and is set to be the bridesmaid for the third time in four years but this time it’s no formality with Michael van der Mark only 26 points adrift. Both riders have, like Rea, only failed to finish one race so far but four podiums in the last five races have seen Yamaha’s van der Mark close the gap to Davies.
The Welshman has been injured in that time, the legacy of a heavy Supermoto crash, and whilst no one likes to finish second, it is, at the end of the day, still better than third, so he’ll be looking to make sure the Dutchman doesn’t get any closer at the final four races.
Sykes’ future remains unclear
Rea’s team-mate Tom Sykes extended his record number of pole positions to 47 after another superb qualifying lap at Magny Cours but, again, he was unable to convert it into race wins with second and fourth the outcome from the two races.
His one lap pace on the Kawasaki ZX-10R remains blistering, to say the least, but stringing it together for a full race duration like Rea remains his undoing. The 2013 World Champion has yet to announce his plans for 2019 but he’s believed to have offers from Red Bull Honda and Milwaukee/SMR although rumours of a switch to a satellite Yamaha team appear to have subsided with Melandri now favourite for that particular ride.
Decision time looms for Milwaukee and SMR
It hasn’t been the best of seasons for the Milwaukee Aprilia team and just when riders Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori look to have made a breakthrough, something comes along to dash their hopes with both of them having suffered crashes – some not their own fault – at the most inopportune moments.
Team boss Shaun Muir would have been hoping for more than two podiums in their second year with the Italian manufacturer and all concerned – sponsors, riders and team personnel alike – would have wanted more than, at present, eighth and ninth overall.
The RSV V4 Aprilia hasn’t undergone a great deal of development in recent times with the Noale factory returning to MotoGP in 2016 and directing a lot of resources their instead so a switch appears to be on the cards.
The team have yet to finalise their machinery for 2019 and rumours continue to persist that they could switch back to BMW which they ran in 2016. A new S1000RR is on its way from the Bavarian factory and it could well be a smart move to propel them into regular podium finishers and, perhaps, race winners too.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.