Rea, Bautista face off in Superbike season finale
Losail International Circuit the stage for keen contest as Briton and Spaniard also gun for records.
Jonathan Rea has been a dominant force in the Superbike world. Like in the past four years, in 2019 too he walked away with the world title. This came about two rounds ahead of the season finale in Qatar. It’s easy to dismiss his triumph as a cakewalk, but a closer look at the season, and one rival in particular, shows that Rea’s path to glory was a hard one.
Spaniard Alvaro Bautista, who switched from MotoGP to Superbike this season, ran Rea close for the title. Inconsistency and inexperience saw the Spaniard miss out on what could have been a phenomenal achievement. It was a keen battle the duo waged this season. And like it did during the 12 rounds so far, the rivalry could trigger even more exciting clashes in 2020 and beyond.
The next season may be a few months away, but the two riders get yet another opportunity to outsmart each other, at the Losail International Circuit this weekend.
The season’s last round under floodlights on Friday and Saturday will give Qatar fans a taste of what Kawasaki’s Rea and Ducati’s Bautista have to offer. The first race gets underway at 8pm on Friday while the 10-lap sprint also called the Superpole race is scheduled for 4pm on Saturday and the final race is scheduled for 8pm the same evening.
The two riders will be certainly keen to outdo each other, but personal milestones too beckon them. Rea has a chance to equal the record of most number of wins in a Superbike season. The record is presently at 17, achieved by USA’s Doug Polen in 1991 and Rea himself just last season. Rea will need to win all the three races in the next two days if he hopes to reach that number.
While Rea can only equal the record, Bautista has the chance to go one up on his rival. The Spaniard can become the first rider in Superbike history to notch up the most number of race wins in a season. Bautista could enter the record books with two wins out of the three races at the weekend.
Even as the focus will be on the top two, the battle for the third spot cannot be ignored. It is a three-way contest between Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark and Turkish Puccetti Racing’s 23-year-old Toprak Razgatlioglu. Six points separate them as they gear up for the final races of the season.
Another rider to watch out for at Losail would be the 37-year-old Italian Marco Melandri for whom the season finale will be a swansong. He is retiring at the end of the season.
The former 250cc champion (2002) and MotoGP runner-up (2005) has always finished in the top 10 in Qatar, be it MotoGP or Superbike. His best finish in Qatar was second at the 2005 MotoGP. He will be keen to sign off on a high and the Yamaha rider’s experience on the Losail track cannot be ignored.