World Superbikes Argentina: Jonathan Rea playing it cool in heat of title fight with Toprak Razgatlioglu
Jonathan Rea’s long reign as Word Superbike champion is under threat more than ever before, but the unflappable Ulsterman remains cool as a cucumber in the heat of a fierce title battle.
The Kawasaki rider is 24 points behind Turkey’s Toprak Razgatlioglu going into Saturday's first race at San Juan Villicum in Argentina (19:00 BST), scene of the penultimate round of the 2021 championship.
But with 124 points still on the table, Rea knows only too well that the title outcome is far from decided.
The 34-year-old is aiming to turn the tables on his Yamaha rival this weekend and set-up a winner-takes-all finale at the new Mandalika circuit in Indonesia next month.
On Friday, Rea was was third fastest in the opening free practice session while Razgatlioglu put down an early marker, setting the pace by half-a-second from Scott Redding (Aruba.it Ducati). Rea was only 0.043s behind Redding after completing 15 laps in FP1. Eugene Laverty was 17th (BMW Motorrad).
After experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions in the previous round at Portimao in Portugal, where Rea crashed out in two successive races, he gave himself renewed hope with a timely victory in the final race of the weekend, reducing the gap from 49 points to 24 after Razgatlioglu slid out of second place after the front mudguard of his Yamaha R1 came loose.
Rea said: “It seems like it’s all to play for really and it’s nice to get to this time of the season – you can see the finish line in sight and you’re close as well, you’re in the fight for the championship.
“It’s always nice to be in the front but it’s also nice to have something to chase and it was a tough weekend for us in Portugal from a points point of view, but I found my rhythm in Portugal, some feeling with the bike that I’ve been missing these last races.
“I hope to carry that on here in Argentina, it’s a track I enjoy, and it’s a nice experience as well to come to a flyaway round after all the Covid lockdowns and restrictions, so I’m happy to be back at a great track for us.”
In one of the closest championship fights for years, both Rea and Razgatlioglu have won 11 races each. They are also level with 25 podiums, while each rider has three DNFs on their record.
The title is at stake with six races to go, but Rea feels better placed to handle the weight of expectation.
“I’m excited to go to these last few races and we have a lot of motivation, so what will be, will be,” he said.
“I’ve been in a position before when you’re chasing a guy, I’ve been way in front, and I think mentally we’re in a good place to know how to manage all this.
“I can control what I can, try not to make any mistakes, try and enjoy the bike and see what happens.
“I don’t really have an approach, just to try and enjoy the bike, enjoy the way I ride and have the feeling, and if I can do that, who knows what can happen,” added Rea, who has won four of the five races held in San Juan since 2018.
“We know the bike works quite well here and I enjoy the track.”
While the focus is very much on the top two in the championship, Redding has enjoyed a strong run of recent results on the Ducati.
Last year’s runner-up may be 54 points behind Razgatlioglu, but Redding will be waiting to pounce on any mistakes from the title favourites.
On Sunday, the Superpole race is scheduled for 16:00 BST with race two at 19:00 BST.