Jonathan Rea went agonisingly close to winning the World Superbike Championship at Sepang in Malaysia on Sunday after taking an excellent victory and runner-up finish.
The 28-year-old would have sealed the championship with a win in race two but in the end was edged out by Welshman Chaz Davies on the Aruba.it Ducati, who won by just 0.091s in a dramatic finish.
Kawasaki star Rea now leads the title race by 144 points from Davies and is almost certain to be crowned champion at the next round at Jerez in Spain on September 20, where he only needs to extend his advantage by a further six points to become Northern Ireland’s first motorcycling world champion since Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid in 1986.
Davies had held a cushion of almost two seconds over Rea in race two, but Rea produced a stunning last lap and used the slipstream to hit the front on the run to the final hairpin.
The pair touched as Davies dived for the inside, but the Ducati rider prevailed on the dash to the finish line.
Rea’s team-mate Tom Sykes can no longer mathematically challenge for the title after he tangled with Max Biaggi in race two before slipping off at Turn 9, eventually returning to the track and finishing down in 14th position.
In the opening race, Rea bagged his 12th win of the season after coming out on top of a final lap battle with Davies after the pair took over when long-timer leader Sykes dropped back as his tyres began to fade.
Rea and Davies traded passes on the final lap but it was champion elect Rea who took the honours by 0.121s, with Aprilia’s Biaggi also reeling in and passing Sykes to claim the final rostrum position.
A jubilant Rea, who has never finished off the podium in 20 races this season, said: “I’m really happy after a good weekend and happy to go into the summer break healthy and looking forward to Jerez.
“With three laps to go in race two Arturo, my mechanic, gave me a bit of a secret signal and I knew if I went then I could catch Chaz. Halfway around the last lap I realised it would be possible. I passed Chaz and went through clean.
“We had contact but I do not blame him for that – I would do the same – but I almost crashed at the same time. I am really happy because we got another first and second on a race weekend and a bagful of points,” he added.
“If I had won the championship here maybe my wife would not have spoken to me for a day or two because she is at home! I just wanted to have a really good weekend and we did that.”