With four-time champion Jonathan Rea overcoming the incredible strong winds and even a small shower of drizzle that interrupted proceedings for a while, he was already at the top of the timesheets at the most recent WorldSBK test in Portimao before he decided to give it one more go on a qualifying tyre.
“I just felt really good with the bike,” said Rea, before going out and setting a lap of 1.40.855, almost a whole second faster than the next man Alex Lowes. “In a test you normally run out of time but the package felt quite good and we had just done some tyre testing for Pirelli. Some different constructions and then I tried that ‘pre-qualifier, or short race distance tyre, and it just felt like the right time. Normally the mechanics are asking me, prompting me to put on a qualifier, and I am always the guy putting the brakes on it. But I thought everything is kinda how I want it to be so let’s go out and feel comfortable to at least push on.”
Rea, with a new engine for 2019 that revs higher than before on his ZX-10RR, progress in machine balance and set-up allowed him to try some new options of race rubber, and one short duration race tyre – the SCX – which is aimed at use in the ten lap Sunday morning race that will be new for 2019. He tried it, but thinks that is more qualifier than race tyre at present.
“I did not do a long run on the new Pirelli pre-qualifying tyre,” he said, although he intended to. “I got one lap on it and then I ran into Lowes and Cortese, who seemed to having a fight on track at turn three! I did one more lap on it and then the drizzle started. I came out on it again to do a couple of more laps, but I think as a race tyre right now, I do not know how it is going to be over ten laps. It feels more like a qualifying tyre than an actual race tyre. We need to see about it.”
After celebrating his amazing dip into the 1’40s, on cool tarmac and fighting the heavy gusts of wind that characterized this test as much as almost completely dry and sometimes-sunny conditions, Rea had some simple misfortune that he luckily escaped from.
“I am fine, fortunately after the crash,” he said, having fallen right at the end of the entire testing period. “We actually do not know what happened, and I lost the rear entering turn four. I had done a practice start and was completely caught off guard. Unfortunately we do not have any data from even before the start happened, so I am not sure if that is a contributing factor or not. But something really caught me off guard. Worth looking into. I just came out of turn three, shifted first to second gear and then tipped in and the rear came round and launched me really. Very surprised, but we just need to try and understand from Magneti Marelli if we can recover that data because it will be quite valuable to understand what happened.”
The crash was an unfortunate end to an otherwise satisfying conclusion of two sets of tests, in Jerez and Portimao, where the most fancied team in the paddock had to work hard to understand their new bike and its reactions at times. A little bemused in Jerez, on mostly resurfaced asphalt, by the end of Portimao’s two mostly clean days Rea looked imperious again. Even the wind could not blow his 1’40.855 lap of course.
“It was pretty windy and in a couple of areas were bad, getting into turn one once yet get past the wall there, getting in on the brakes,” explained Rea. Entering that last corner up and over that sort of rise those were the biggest areas of worries. The change of direction from six to seven; it was helping you in there because it was in your face. It really unsettled the bike getting into seven. But, it was always in the back of your mind and it is never nice having that strength of wind.”
By Gordon Ritchie