Pre-season World Superbike Championship favourite Jonathan Rea is bidding to really kick his 2010 title challenge into gear at Portimão in Portugal this weekend, having fallen short of the podium in both races in the Phillip Island curtain-raiser last month.
Rea entered the campaign tipped by most as a leading contender for glory off the back of a highly promising debut year in the series in 2009 that saw him finish fifth outright and take the honours for top Honda rider.
What's more, two of the Ulsterman's eight rostrum finishes from last season came in the Portimão finale, and he topped the testing times there in January – meaning he returns to the Algarve for round two on the 2010 calendar with high hopes of a strong result and of improving considerably upon his current joint sixth spot in the WSBK standings.
“Australia was tough, but still satisfying,” opined the 23-year-old Hannspree Ten Kate Honda star. “It was important to come away from there with some solid points, so a fourth and a sixth wasn't too bad. I feel like we've blown the dust off the season and it's really got started, especially now we're heading back to Europe.
“I've been working hard away from the track on my fitness and conditioning and I know that the guys have been working equally hard back at the workshop, getting a bike together that we know can work at European tracks. I like Portimão, and we had a good test there in January, so we'll be looking for podium finishes as that's what we need to be doing now. I'm not naïve enough to think anything's going to be easy, but I'm optimistic for the weekend.”
Rea's team-mate Max Neukirchner failed to break the top ten at all Down Under, with a best finish of a distant twelfth place in race one as the German continued to bear the scars of his leg-breaking Monza injuries from last year – but the 26-year-old is confident of securing a better result around a circuit at which he finished fourth back in 2008 and of which he has far more recent experience from testing.
“I'm now really ready for another race weekend in Portimão,” Neukirchner underlined. “It's a track that I like very much and we have tested there twice. We found something in the very last hour of the last test that we think will work there, but there are some new electronics to try as well.
“Of course, I am looking for an improvement on the results in Australia, a very big improvement – but nevertheless, I'm happy having been able to do two races. Physically, I have never felt so fit after a race weekend as after that race.”