He just fell short at the penultimate round of the WorldSBK title in Spain, but Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea is all but guaranteed of wrapping up a second successive championship when the 2016 season draws to a close under the floodlights of Qatar this weekend. (October 28-30).
Rea is 48pts (462 to 414) ahead of his teammate Tom Sykes, which means he only has to score 2pts across the two races to win the title – a job, based on his brilliant speed and unerring consistency in 2016, should be a fait accompli for the Isle of Man-based Northern Irishman – who also spends the off-season living down under with his Aussie wife, Tatia.
“I am happy to finish the season here at Losail because it is a circuit that I really enjoy,” said Rea. “The atmosphere of Qatar – being a night race, in the middle of the desert, surrounded by five star hotels – is cool.
“All my family will be there and a lot of my friends are making the trip as well because I hope to cap off an amazing season with the championship win. That is what we have been working hard for all season.
“The races in Qatar give us our chance to try and do that. We have just come off the back of a good weekend in Jerez where I was on the podium for the first time ever, and on the podium twice. I feel really equipped to go out and do a good job at Losail because I really enjoy the track and I feel we can aim high this weekend.”
If Rea retains the WorldSBK title he will become the first rider since Carl Fogarty (1998-99) to go back-to-back, and the first Kawasaki rider to win more than one championship.
Meanwhile, for Sykes to win the title he’d have to win both races and Rea score only a maximum of 1pt across both battles. Not surprisingly, he’s just about put the cue in the rack. He said: “It would be nice to finish the year with a win and if we can secure runner-up in the championship, it is not a bad season.
“Not a great one because I have definitely let myself down in the wet races but after a large part of the season had been completed I was not really expecting to be in a position to take it to the last round.”
While Sykes would love to push Rea to the wire, he knows that any slip-up will open the door for a rampaging Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) to take second spot. Davies is in red-hot form, having won five of the last six races to rapidly move along to 395pts – only 19 behind Sykes. But the Welshman is lamenting arriving “a bit late to the party” this season.
“It’s the last race of the year, but in some ways I wish the season had just started, given that we obtained such good results lately,” said Davies. “But we need to look forward. Last year, in Qatar, we managed to be quite competitive and took a second place, which was okay.
“Racing at night is always something different and fun. We need to bridge a 19pt gap from second place in the championship, and I believe there will be more riders in the mix. History shows anything can happen in racing, so why not? We can only do what we’ve been doing in the last few races, and then do the math.”
Davies and Rea have both nine races each this season, ahead of Sykes (five) and American Nicky Hayden (Honda, one).
Hayden – who competed in last weekend’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix as a replacement for the injured Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda – looks set to finish fifth in the WorldSBK title, behind his teammate Michael van der Mark, while Davide Giugliano (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) and Jordi Torres (Althea BMW) are in a tight battle for sixth position.
Torres and Brit Leon Haslam shared wins in Qatar last year, and the latter will be returning in 2017 to make a cameo on a Pedercini Kawasaki, replacing Aussie Anthony West.
That will leave Josh Brookes (Milwaukee BMW) as the lone Australian WorldSBK rider around the 5.38km Losail International Circuit, located just north of Doha. And it could be Brookes’ swansong on the world stage – for the time being, anyway – with all indications that he’ll return to the British superbike title in 2017.
Other riders looking to finish the season on a high include Pata Yamaha pair Sylvain Guintoli – who wrapped up the 2014 title in Qatar – and Alex Lowes, as well as Leon Camier (MV Agusta).
Once the 2016 title finishes, preparations will begin almost immediately for the 2017 season, which will include the injection of three stars: Marco Melandri, Eugene Laverty and Stefan Bradl.
The 2017 FIM Motul Superbike World Championship kicks off at Australia’s Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit with the Yamaha Finance round from February 24-26, and is set to be a scorcher. Tickets at www.worldsbk.com.au or go to Ticketek. Call circuit hotline on 1300 728 007 for info.