With a Kawasaki 1-2, are the guys in green the ones to beat going into racing?
The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship season enters it final European round of the year at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve for the Motul Portuguese Round. The Portimao track welcomes the next instalment of the title duel and day one saw the advantage go to Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK), with the Ulsterman leading a Kawasaki 1-2 in Portugal. Both Kawasakis were right in contention from the start of the day and the ZX-10RR looks like it could be the bike to be on.
Jonathan Rea topped both FP1 and FP2 and improved his time in the afternoon. Setting a 1’41.542 in the morning before getting down to a 1’41.466, Rea set some 36 laps across the course of the opening day at Portimao and was up to speed from the start. The Ulsterman’s record at Portimao is also something to behold, with 12 wins, 20 podiums and four poles all coming his way across his Honda and Kawasaki years. Now with the new ZX-10RR, it looks like Rea may continue his form at the track this weekend.
Speaking after the opening day of action, Rea said: “I made quite a significant change to my bike and I feel like I definitely made a step in my riding today. I feel more confident with how things are, so I’m looking forward to taking that to tomorrow, understanding how the bike behaves in the morning and then we have a race. I’m really excited for this one and I’m ready to get stuck in!
“I feel like I have my bike now, I was able to do things with the bike today that I’ve not been able to do all season, even during testing, so I want to thank all of the team for that; they’ve been working really hard. I’m looking forward to seeing how it translates in the race, racing with other riders as I’ve been pretty much alone all day today doing laps. I did a longer run in the afternoon; I tried to do more but I had some issues at the start of the session in braking. Anyway, pretty positive day for me and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
On the other side of the green garage, teammate Alex Lowes had a remarkable day as he continues to fight back from a nasty right hand injury sustained in Race 2 at Catalunya just under two weeks ago. Having been declared unfit for Race 2 last time out at Jerez, the few days’ rest in between rounds has seen Lowes come out of the blocks fighting in Portugal. Third in FP1 and up to second in FP2 and, like Rea, improving by an incremental margin in the hotter afternoon temperatures, Lowes is in the mix. However, he only set 19 laps throughout the day, not wanting to push his injured hand too much too soon.
Talking at the close of Friday, Lowes said: “I’ve had a good day on the bike overall, the Kawasaki ZX-10RR is working really well here at Portimao. It’s a bit frustrating: my pace is good, I’m good, I’m fast and I’m finding it quite easy to settle in with the bike and do some good times, but we need to see how the hand reacts today and then hopefully, I can do 20 laps in the race at a good pace, this is the target this weekend. Obviously, last weekend, after the first race, I struggled to get the inflammation back down for the second one. Let’s see how the hand reacts tonight ready for tomorrow, but in terms of the bike and the pace and the feeling, I’ve had a really positive day riding the bike.”
There’s plenty at stake as the final European event of the season ignites in World Superbike. With a 20-point deficit, Rea must use one of his most successful circuits to claw back points on Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) in the Championship. However, in the Manufacturers’ Championship, Kawasaki are 31 points adrift and as reigning Champions, will be keen to retain their crown and with a strong start to the weekend, have definitely got off on the correct foot.
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