Ulster’s Jonathan Rea did his chances of earning a full-time MotoGP ride in 2013 no harm as he finished in a credible eighth place on his race debut in the elite championship at Misano.
Rea, who has been drafted into the factory Repsol Honda team as a replacement for the injured Casey Stoner, had a somewhat lonely ride during the shortened 26-lap race as he finished behind American Nicky Hayden on the works Ducati.
The 25-year-old, who rides for Honda under the Ten Kate Racing banner in World Superbikes, has had limited time on the 1000cc RC213V machine since he was granted the coveted opportunity to join Dani Pedrosa in the team for Sunday’s race at San Marino and the next round of the championship at Motorland Aragon in Spain at the end of September.
Spaniard Pedrosa’s hopes of challenging Yamaha star Jorge Lorenzo for the world title suffered a massive blow when he was taken out by Pramac Racing’s Hector Barbera on the opening lap of the race.
Lorenzo, the 2010 world champion, took full advantage as he went on to win the race comfortably from a rejuvenated Valentino Rossi, who sent his Italian fans wild as he secured the runner-up spot on the Ducati Desmosedici.
Afterwards, Rea - who is being linked with the final Honda seat available for 2013 in the Gresini team - said he was “nowhere near” the limit on the works Honda, but conceded that overall he was “really happy” with his maiden race weekend in motorcycling’s top tier championship.
“It was a tough race and I just wanted to get into a rhythm and maintain it,” Rea said.
“I’m still nowhere near the limit - I’m not really having any moments, just a few mistakes running wide - it’s a matter of trust and I’m still acclimatising to the machine.
“I’m really happy with the progress I made throughout the race and I learnt so much that you simply can’t pick up in testing about race distance - how the tyre wear goes down, the fuel load and how the bike behaves differently.
“In the beginning Nicky [Hayden] pulled a gap and I was catching him but in the end it wasn’t enough.”
Rea admitted he was a “little frustrated” by the deficit to the leading riders, but nonetheless is satisfied with his weekend’s work as he begins to look ahead to the next round at Aragon.
He has had little time to adjust to the Repsol Honda since he was called up to the team, participating in the post-race test at Brno before a two-day shakedown at Aragon prior to the San Marino round,
“To finish eighth is okay, but the gap to the front is a little frustrating,” said Rea, who returns to World Superbike action this weekend at Portimao.
“In general I’m really happy and I’m looking forward to the next challenge in Aragon.”
There was drama at the beginning of the race when Karel Abraham’s Ducati cut out on the grid and a restart was ordered.
Pedrosa was then forced to start at the rear of the grid after suffering a locked wheel and his luck worsened when he was struck from behind by Barbera.
Lorenzo cruised to victory ahead of Rossi, with Alvaro Bautista claiming an emotional rostrum finish for the Gresini Honda team, which he dedicated to ex-Gresini star Marco Simoncelli, who was killed in a crash last season.
Bautista took third in a photo finish with Andrea Dovizioso, whose Tech 3 Yamaha team-mate Cal Crutchlow crashed unhurt.
Ben spies finished fifth on the second works Yamaha ahead of Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda), with Hayden and Rea the top eight.