Rea and Davies talk Aragon last lap showdown
Some context. On Sunday Ducati’s Chaz Davies sat deep on the third row of the grid with the knowledge he had the potential to win the sixth race of the WorldSBK season…but was also in need of a result after his Saturday tumble while leading and subsequent DNF. Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea was wrapped in a jacket and hat, suffering the effects of a cold but enlightened by the fact that he was half way to the record of ten Superbike wins in succession after profiting from Davies’ error twenty-two hours previously while in the Panigale’s exhaust emission.
Saturday had already served up a meaty dice between the pair. Rea clearly losing out in acceleration and speed to the Ducati exiting the chicane, Turn 15, and bombing onto one of the longer back straights in the championship and before the crucial right double apex 16 and 17 running uphill to the chequered flag. The wind was stronger on a sunny Sunday and both Rea and Davies defied the 2017 grid reversal convention by cutting past the warring (and much improved) Yamahas of Michael Van Der Mark and Alex Lowes to hit the front by lap four. Rea held the advantage but Davies soon arrived and the pattern from Saturday resumed until the last circulation of the 5km distance. It was clear that Rea – seemingly with more will and command of the Kawasaki compared to Davies’ exciting but ragged efforts – would need some special strategy to aim for a third double.
30 year old Davies (the same age as Rea) admitted there was conflict between wanting to push for a win that was clearly achievable but also not wanting to drop the ball once more. “I want to win and anything less is not satisfying for me, especially when you have a competitor who is clearly as comfortable and as strong as Johnny has been this first few rounds,” he said afterwards of his mindset. “It is easy to say ‘I should have settled yesterday’ but he – and that bike – are on the top of their game at the moment. The conflict is there [in me]…but I go all out to win.”
Rea was sizing up where to get the better of Davies and was granted a small window when the Ducati stepped-out early in the decisive last circulation. “He made a huge mistake in 5 and completely opened the door but it wasn’t safe to go through and open-up because he was coming back fast; it would have been dangerous. I squared up 7 but it was not enough to go through,” the champion described.
“The big mistake was because I had a gust of wind going into turn five; it put me wide and I missed a gear, a backshift and it opened the door for Johnny to have a go,” Davies explained.
Turn, kink, brake, turn…the rush to the chicane arrived fast and Rea, as the aggressor, tried something different: “I went full ‘old school’ with a motocross block-pass. I tried to make him stop and pick up the bike. It was the only way I thought I could get enough of an advantage down the straight to keep the line. There was no chance to line-up a pass going into the last corner because we were not strong on the exit of 15. For three quarters of the race yesterday I used second gear [there] and then switched to first and it was a bit better. So we decided to be specific with that overnight and maximise the potential of first for acceleration but, still, it was our biggest weakness. We cannot complain too much because on one side of the circuit we were really strong…it was only on the straight we were getting killed.”
The different line almost worked but Davies anticipated and Rea ended up with marks of Ducati Pirelli rubber on his left arm. #7 had the lead and speed down the straight. “I was kinda expecting it [Rea’s tactic] because I could hear him there the laps before,” Davies offered. “I could hear him on me and I was expecting that move. I didn’t try to block because I didn’t want to give him the chance to get a run down the back straight. I tried to cut back on the inside because I knew all weekend that I my acceleration on the back straight was really good.”
Rea: “The last opportunity was the chicane and I parked it but he lifted me up. Fair play to him. To come back after yesterday’s crash was impressive so congratulations to Chaz and Ducati.”
There was allegedly some post-race tension between Rea and Davies after the opening round at Phillip Island with some public disagreement over the Ducati’s top speed advantage and there were slight traces of the rivalry in the post-race media debriefs…but relief seemed to be the overriding emotion from both. Rea, looking poorly and struggling to talk, and Davies content that his philosophy to push for that top spot in what was a sensational race performance coming through the pack had paid off. “All weekend we’ve had our fair share of curveballs,” he said in reference to Saturday but also the engine failure Friday morning that robbed him of an entire practice session “but to finish the weekend like that was very important.”
Rea may have claimed seven of the last eight races at Assen and what will be round four on April 28-30th but based on evidence from 2016 and renewal of the battle lines this season then expect more of the same.
Photos by GeeBee Images