Jonathan Rea’s sweetest WorldSBK success is a bitter pill for Ducati

From 64 points adrift to winning the 2019 WorldSBK title with two rounds to spare, Jonathan Rea's turnaround is a credit to his champion quality

Jonathan Rea - Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10RR

Jonathan Rea has hailed his Kawasaki Racing Team as he successfully defended his World Superbike Championship once more, in so doing becoming the first person to win five WorldSBK titles.

Though hot favourite to wrap up the title early having come into the weekend – Round 12 of 14 - with a 91-point advantage over Alvaro Bautista, Rea had only slight chance of doing the deed at Magny-Cours, needing to out-score his rival by 35 points from a total of 62 available.

However, a pair of second place finishes and a 12th win of the season – helped by a pivotal DNF for Bautista in race two – took him over the threshold, ensuring he’d get the job done with two rounds to spare.

Admitting he ‘didn’t understand the points situation’ coming into race two – having needed nothing less than a win for himself and a non-score for Bautista – Rea nonetheless did exactly what he needed to do as he prevailed in an tense battle with Michael van der Mark.

Having tied with Carl Fogarty on the all-time list with his four WorldSBK titles, this fifth WorldSBK title moves him clear of his fellow Briton. 

“I am just super-happy. It has been the biggest challenge to date and we have just chipped away. The beginning of the season was really tough, to be beaten the way we were. But to mentally accept the challenge and keep working as a team - also away from the track – we kept strong. I have worked and kept working. 

“We all go to each weekend looking for the opportunity and we have had lots of opportunities this year, and won a lot of races. It is beyond my wildest dreams to win the title here because after four rounds I would have bitten your hand off if you told me I was going to be champion. 

“Massive thanks to Kawasaki, the team, my sponsors, my family, all my friends and everybody in my corner. I am the guy taking the plaudits but it is such a big team effort and I am fortunate to be in this position.”

From 61 points behind to champion with two rounds in hand

Though the scene of celebration in France – complete with ‘bumps’, post-race theatrics and even Kawasaki green dickie-bows - is certainly a familiar one based on previous years, it disguises the journey that took Rea here.

It seems bizarre to think now that as recently as six rounds ago, you’d have gotten long odds on Rea retaining his title as Bautista sprinted away with the series lead.

Indeed, Bautista’s superb start to the year on the new Ducati Panigale V4R yielded 11 consecutive wins out of the box – almost the entirety of Rea’s current total wins from 12 rounds and 36 races – but his well-publicised mid-season collapse was such that the Ulsterman was going long, but was doing so into an open goal.

Even so, while Bautista’s dramatic slump – which never righted itself - accelerated the pendulum swing back to the Kawasaki rider regardless of Rea’s results, it was the Ulsterman’s steely and calculated response to his most compelling foe yet that arguably deserves the most credit for this seemingly unlikely outcome.

Finishing second in all but one of those 11 races to ensure Bautista’s lead – though stretched out – was only ever incrementally improved at his best, it meant Rea was still riding well within his means when the Spaniard took chunks out of the advantage with his own errors.

Jonathan Rea vs Alvaro Bautista - The showdown that never was

Ironically, though Bautista’s presence forced Rea to step up a level, by the time he did and demonstrated as much by reeling off six wins on the bounce, the competition had ultimately disappeared.

Indeed, there have been barely any moments this season where Rea and Bautista have shared a proper on-track fight in 2019, such was their individual dominance at different stages of the season. 

It remains to be seen if Honda can give the ex-MotoGP rider the chance to reassert himself and rediscover the form that – on his day – is as good, maybe better than Rea’s. Speed and consistency are two very different skills, however.

So, while the bumps, the theatrics and the showmanship will certainly feel familiar, title #5 for Rea is surely going to taste the sweetest of the quintet.

For Ducati on the other hand, losing any hint of a grip with two rounds still to go will be a very, very bitter pill to swallow…