The timesheets may suggest otherwise, but Jonathan Rea believes he still has to rekindle his “love with my bike again” as he got to grips with Kawasaki’s newly homologated 2019 ZX10RR at a two-day World Superbike test at Jerez.

In a sunny Andalusia the four-time world champion carried on where he left off from the second half of 2018, topping both days of testing, and coming away from Tuesday with a fastest time of 1m 38.713s. Only Alex Lowes (+0.664s) was within one second of his personal best.

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Rea claimed he is still adjusting to the altered characteristics of Kawasaki’s revised ’19 engine, which contains more revs than its predecessor. And on Tuesday he confirmed his feelings from day one: ‘smoothing out’ the top RPM remains a priority for factory engineers over the winter months.

“In this test we ended in a confident way, but I still need time to re-fall in love with my bike,” said the 31-year old. “We’ve got to be satisfied. I was on the pace straight away from day one so I could go testing straight away.

“The ’19 bike feels a little bit like 2016,” said Rea, 17 times a race winner this year. “The potential is there, but it’s trying to find that potential. It’s subtle changes when your package is really sharp makes a big difference. So it’s just learning that. But I’m trying to bring the bike back to how I ride a little bit, and to take the best from the bike.

“It took us a season, 16 races to understand that. In 2016 we were playing around with the engine character a lot. [This time] We don’t need to do that. I think we just need to smooth that area at the top of the RPM and we should be alright.

“We have a package that works everywhere. We can be confident of that. I don’t need to change my preparation or my approach. I just need to feel really part of my bike again. In this test we ended in a confident way, but I still need time to re-fall in love with my bike.”

Rea used a qualifying tyre to post his quickest time on Tuesday morning, before earmarking the afternoon to work on tyre longevity and gearbox configurations.

“I used one (qualifier) in the morning about 11 o’clock,” he said. “It was a positive day. It’s always difficult when the track’s not in great shape. With all those ruts developing it’s really difficult to feel the confidence to push at the maximum. Aside from that the temperature is very critical here with the base tyre that we have.

“Like yesterday we were trying some different things with the bike. At the end of the day we tried something quite interesting with the balance of the bike. I felt really, really good with an old tyre. There’s something to keep working with until 2019.

“We did some back-to-back testing doing final gearing set-ups like sprocket changes. We had a few RPM shorter, a few longer. It seems like what we had when we came here was the best.

“It’s handicapping having a fixed gearbox for the year. Ideally we would change that from track to track. It’s just a compromise to get used to. I’ve told Kawasaki engineers that’s where we need to focus over the winter, that top RPM more smooth.”

Rea’s speed aside, the late season outing in Andalusia was notabe for the immediate speed of Alvaro Bautista and Chaz Davies on Ducati’s V4 Panigale. Both riders placed fourth and fifth overall, and with Yamaha’s Lowes second, the Northern Irishman feels “the ingredients are there for a great season.”

“It looks like both Chaz and Alvaro are going really fast, but that’s expected. It’s Ducati. They’re not going to show up with anything that’s not competitive.

“But to be honest, I haven’t looked at lap-by-laps. Even yesterday. So I don’t understand their real pace. Winter testing it’s always easy to get confused with what other people are doing but at Phillip Island there’s no hiding there.

“Also at a test you don’t understand everyone’s strategy, so it’s hard to understand how competitive they are right now. I feel right now we’re still strong.

“To be honest I feel like it’s really difficult to say. I feel like last week in Aragon it seemed like the toys were out of the pram at Yamaha and then this week Alex has looked like he’s been the most competitive behind us.

“I think everything is in place for Yamaha, Alex and van der Mark to step up. Of course the Ducatis are going to get better and better. The ingredients are there for a great season but it’s really hard to tell. Racing’s different from testing and putting 26 races together is tough.

“We have a package that works everywhere. We can be confident of that.”

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