WorldSBK

How Alex Lowes defied all but his own expectations on Kawasaki debut

Kawasaki rider Alex Lowes explains why his race-winning turn at the 2020 WorldSBK opener wasn't as surprising to himself as it may have been for others

Jonathan Rea may have dominated for the last five seasons but ahead of the 2020 WorldSBK Championship there was definitely a greater sense of unpredictability than had been felt in previous years.

With top riders switching teams, new machines making their debut and collective air of confidence among each of the five manufacturers, Rea may come into this season as the favourite but now having a cheeky punt on a long-odd bet didn’t seem so wild.

Even so, few would have predicted it would be Alex Lowes emerging from round one as the early championship leader after an accomplished race-winning turn that was as convincing as it was surprising.

Indeed, Lowes’ transition from Yamaha to Kawasaki over the winter hadn’t set the timesheets alight and while many initially put it down to him getting to grips with the ZX-10RR, he certainly wasn’t near the centre of anyone’s radar heading to Australia.

This continued once the race weekend began with eighth place in qualifying putting him squarely mid-field on a slim grid, but come the races Lowes’ strategically astute approach became clear as he methodically working his way up the order and largely stayed out of trouble in some intense corner-to-corner tussles that saw everyone yo-yo up and down the lap chart.

An incredibly tight second place finish in race one was followed by fourth in the Superpole Race, leading to the crescendo of race three when he powered to victory via an inspired pass on a no-doubt bewildered Rea, who won’t be used to seeing another green Kawasaki get the better of him.

However, the performance was a continuation of the form that Lowes had shown in 2019 where he often made up for his Yamaha’s lack of outright pace versus Kawasaki and Ducati with some mature rides that maximised what he had.

It’s a maturity that ultimately influenced a route to victory that began way back in November when he first threw his leg over the ZX-10RR. With a well-developed package already beneath him and one certainly tuned more towards Rea’s needs, Lowes focused on an area where his new team-mate is often strongest – late race pace.

He maximised his track time during pre-season testing to predominantly focus on tyre longevity – crucial at Phillip Island but also important elsewhere – rather than chase lap times. As such, while others weren’t exactly positioning him as a victory contender coming into round one, Lowes ultimately knew better.

“My experience helps. I’ve been at the Phillip Island test before, I was fastest in 2014 on the Suzuki – didn’t come away with any points.

“I didn’t want to worry about the lap times. I knew that races there are always a tyre war, it’s a very abrasive track for us. And for some reason, I’ve got quite a lot of self-confidence with this bike, since the Aragon test. The best way to work was to focus on myself, buckle down, work on old tyres, and be there when we needed to be.

“So, being able to listen to the comments and do the interviews saying, ‘it’s not as bad as it looks’, it just comes from a bit of inner-confidence I guess, and some experience as well.”

Can Alex Lowes maintain this form across the season?

Lowes has been around for a long time in WorldSBK and while he is regarded as a front-runner, his bare stats do somewhat belie his status. In six full seasons on Suzuki and then Yamaha machinery, Lowes achieved just a single race win in that time.

This isn’t to say Lowes isn’t a quality rider, however. The Briton finished third overall in 2019 – his best season yet – but having been nudged out of his Yamaha seat by Toprak Razgatlioglu despite defeating both him and his team-mate Michael van der Mark last year, it didn’t sound a ringing endorsement for the Englishman.

However, with one door closing, an even better one arguably opened at Kawasaki where Lowes can move away from what was often a development focused role at Suzuki and Yamaha to one where he already has a winning bike beneath him.

It is an opportunity he needs to take, though not one that should have necessarily meant he’ll be fighting for wins at every event. In fact, such as been Rea’s superiority at Kawasaki since joining in 2015, Lowes’ win is only the 15th time a Kawasaki rider other than the Ulsterman has won a race since 2015. By contrast, Rea has notched up 74 wins in the same period.

As such, getting one over on Rea early on both tactically and in the heat of a last lap battle will help silence some wary critics and reclassify Lowes as a threat.

Of course, it’s easy to get carried away at this stage. Phillip Island can be something of a misnomer when it comes to season-long form due to the different demands it places on the tyres, not to mention the ‘first day back at school’ adrenaline racing it often produces.

Indeed, Marco Melandri won both races in 2018 for Ducati but barely bothered the podium thereafter and Alvaro Bautista was a runaway winner in 2019, while it is arguably Rea’s ‘bogey’ track if he has one.

It’s also worth noting his tyre preservation policy worked wonders at Phillip Island because the pace was generally quite slow.

That doesn’t take anything away from him though as Lowes has often been accused of lacking some aggression in key battles, but if Australia can be a sign of things to come then Kawasaki may have just pulled a blinder in getting him on board.

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