Jonathan Rea believes the preseason plan of solely building toward the first race of the season has paid off, as he resisted a late Chaz Davies attack to win the first World Superbike race of 2016.
Just seventh fastest in a January test in Spain, Rea's closely knit group of engineers, led by crew-chief Pere Riba, resisted the urge to chase lap times and devised a plan to ensure he arrived in Phillip Island in the strongest possible shape for racing conditions.
As he stated after the race, “It didn't start in November or during testing. Now we go racing and this is the important part.”
“We expected to be strong,” said the reigning world champion, who notched up his 30th victory in the class with this win. “I'm so lucky with Pere and my guys. We made a strategy for the winter tests in November and it's clear that it worked.
“Today to be strong and stay in front at this track is so difficult. I rolled the throttle with Tom at the beginning and then he rolled again to allow me to go through. Then it was difficult. Every lap at MG I saw the size of the group.
“When it dropped to four guys and then three in the end with van der Mark and Chaz I put my head down with six to go but still [saw] '+0'. I relaxed then with three to go I made another push [and did] mid-1m 31s for a few laps. Chaz was still there.
“The only way for me to win the race was to close the door at Honda hairpin and MG but I closed the door at MG and he blew it completely wide open. I managed to stop the bike, fire it out. It wasn't a pretty last sector but we managed to win the race and get 25 points. I'm really happy because all our work paid off.”
With Davies never more than a handful of tenths behind, Rea admitted he had expected the Welshman to execute a last-lap lunge into turn four. Yet, such was the Northern Irishman's pace, he knew that if a move was incoming, his pursuer would need to ride beyond the limit.
“I expected it in T4 to be honest but I put together a really strong T1 and T2 so I knew if he was going to be coming in T4 it'd be a big pass. Basically as much as I tried to defend I knew I just had to ride my limit. If I braked on the limit in these corners then it was clear he would run wide.
“I've been lucky because Kawasaki has worked so hard for me in the winter. In the end we're really happy with the bike. It's clear that we have a little bit more speed than last year compared to some of our rivals. It made staying in the front here easier, especially with the head wind on the front straight.”
Asked whether he was surprised to see Davies as his principle pursuer after the Aruba.it Ducati man qualified in a lowly ninth, Rea stated that he has come to expect a scrap with the Welshman, no matter where he qualifies.
“Surprised to see Chaz? If you watch Superbike racing you can never be surprised to see Chaz. No matter where he qualifies he's always one of the guys. He's here now and he won't mind me saying that in the black and white he wasn't looking too clever in the last days but he's that kind of guy.
“You can never discount him because no matter what the chronological analysis says he's always there on Sunday. It's nice because he's a good fighter and I like to fight in the race and in the end it was nice.”
Looking ahead to the second race, Rea continued that he expects the same men that contributed to a typical enthralling Phillip Island opener to challenge him for race honours on Sunday.
“[I want] To try and make the same kind of race to be honest. This race paints a good picture. There are some areas in which I've felt a little bit weak. I've been lucky, we put the work in, and I made a race simulation yesterday, also on Tuesday.
“With today's information I think we can improve the bike even more so we can be strong in the last lap attacks. I think it's very difficult to improve here without compromising with the set-up. I expect the same guys to be in front at the end so it just depends on how we manage the race and to be clever, finish the race and finish on the podium; that's the target.”