Jonathan Rea has opened up a lead of 24 points in the World Superbike Championship after a stunning treble at Donington Park.
The reigning champion has turned the title race on its head after a magnificent weekend at the Leicestershire circuit for the Ulsterman, who trailed Spain’s Alvaro Bautista by 61 points two rounds back at Jerez in Spain.
Three crashes in consecutive rounds for the former MotoGP rider at Jerez, Misano and again at Donington in Saturday’s opening race left the door open for Rea, who has taken full advantage.
He won the opening race at his home round in commanding style in the wet on Saturday from BMW’s Tom Sykes, moving into the championship lead for the first time in 2019 after Bautista crashed out of fifth position.
On Sunday, Rea fought off Sykes to win the Superpole Sprint race and he completed his hat-trick on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR with another victory in the second 23-lap race, once again holding the edge over Razgatlioglu.
Rea said: "I would have laughed if you had said to me before the weekend that I'd win three races here.
"I've had problems here before but I felt in good shape and I need to say a big thanks to my team because I had a great bike.
"I'm going to celebrate this victory when I get home tonight because you have to take stock of days like today."
Bautista finished fourth in the Superpole race and made it onto the rostrum in Sunday’s race two, but the former 125cc Grand Prix world champion now finds himself on the back foot for the first time this season.
Laguna Seca in the USA hosts round nine of the series next weekend before the championship enters a long summer break, resuming once again at Portimao in Portugal in September.
Rea, who is now firmly back on course for a record fifth world title success in a row, has a fine record at Laguna Seca and will be aiming to turn the screw further on Bautista to stretch his lead at the top and gain a psychological advantage going into the decisive second half of the season.
In the Superpole race, the 32-year-old beat Turkish rider Torpak Razgatlioglu by 1.1 seconds, with Leon Haslam a close third on the second of the official Kawasaki Racing Team machines.
Bautista came home in fourth as the top four were covered by six-tenths-of-a-second, while Loris Baz (Ten Kate Yamaha) and Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha) completed the first six.
The race was stopped with three laps to go when Peter Hickman’s BMW dropped fluid on the circuit on the approach to the Melbourne hairpin, which saw several riders crash out, including Leandro Mercado, Alessandro Delbianco, Sandro Cortese and Ryuichi Kiyonari.
In a bizarre twist, Sykes – who finished as the runner-up in Saturday’s wet race – crashed on the oil after the race had been stopped, which cost him the runner-up spot and a second podium finish of the weekend.
With Sykes failing to make it back to the pits with his bike within five minutes, he was excluded from the results.
In the second race, Razgatlioglu and Rea traded places at the front until the four-time champion made a final pass on the 22-year-old on the exit of the Foggy Esses.
He was able to maintain a slight cushion over the Puccetti Racing rider and went on to sew up another hugely important victory by 0.3 seconds, with Bautista rounding out the top three.
Haslam slipped back to fifth position behind Lowes after running as high as third, while Frenchman Baz took sixth.
After eight rounds of the championship, Rea has 376 points with Bautista on 352.
Michael van der Mark is third in the standings with 206 points.
Eugene Laverty did not race at Donington after being forced to pull out as he continues to recovery from injury after breaking his wrists in a crash at Imola in Italy in May.