Ahead of the 2020 season-opening Yamaha Finance round of the Motul FIM Superbike World Championship at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit next weekend (February 28-March 1), the paddock has united to stage a charity auction to help out the victims of the recent Australian bushfires.
Five-time world champion Jonathan Rea has donated gloves and boots for the auction, with all funds raised going to BlazeAid, a volunteer-based organisation which works alongside rural families and individuals impacted by fires and floods.
Rea spoke about the bushfires at a media conference in Melbourne today, after the disaster struck a very personal note for the Kawasaki factory rider.
The family of Rea and his Australian wife, Tatia, owns a house just out of Bright in the heart of north-east Victoria, and for three weeks they watched from afar as the fires threatened their home, evacuations took place, and they saw farms and communities surrounding Bright ravaged.
“During the height of the fire, it got to within 5km of the house and Tatia’s parents were told to leave, we were at home and keeping a constant eye on the emergency apps, and in the end we were very fortunate.
“It’s great the WorldSBK paddock is doing something, as it’d be easy to come here and then move on. Everyone has been sensational with their support.”
For full details on the auction and to make bids, visit www.charitystars.com/collection/bushfires-action. The auction ends on March 3, 2020.
Challenges From All Fronts
The statistics don’t lie: Rea is now the most successful WorldSBK rider of all time, topping all the key metrics: titles won (five), number of race wins (88), podiums (168) and fastest laps (67).
His dominance over the last five years has been profound, and the hard-nosed 33-year-old will now strive for six titles in a row against a manufacturer, machinery and rider base (both factory and privateer) that’s the strongest it has been during his reign at the top.
Competition for Rea will come from all quarters, including Spaniard Alvaro Bautista (Honda) who won the first 11 races in 2019 before Rea came home with a wet sail; Briton’s former MotoGP rider Scott Redding making his debut in the production series on a factory Ducati; his new teammate Alex Lowes; his old teammate Leon Haslam (Honda); Yamaha guns Toprak Razgatlioglu and Michael van der Mark; Chaz Davies (Ducati) and BMW duo Tom Sykes and Eugene Laverty.
Haslam, Bautista and Laverty are all past WorldSBK winners at Phillip Island (Bautista doing the double in 2019), so the anticipation ahead of round one is palpable.
“Phillip Island is the closest thing to a home round for me, so I always enjoy racing there,” said Rea. “There’s always expectation and nervous energy ahead of a new season, but I’m trying to take a more mature approach in 2020.
“Last year, I was super excited at the start of the season, but the wind was then knocked out of my sails a little bit in those first four races,”
Continued Rea, referring to Bautista’s early season dominance.
“Of course I’d love to leave Phillip Island with three race wins, but it’s a 39-race championship and it’s more important that I leave Australia healthy and with a platform for the rest of the year.
“More than ever, consistency is going to a vital asset in 2020. I’ll just continue to focus on myself, and after the first 4-5 rounds everyone will eventually find their place.
“I had to come from behind to win the 2019 championship, and that was a valuable lesson in just focussing on my own form and not worrying about everyone else.”
Final pre-season testing will be held at Phillip Island on February 24-25, and then the paddock reconvenes three days later for the real business of racing.
Rea heads into the test after strong testing form in Europe.
“I’m going to focus on polishing the package during the test, the last two years I haven’t nailed setup at Phillip Island, and the goal will be to finish up with a bike that turns naturally – which places less stress on the tyres.”
There will be three WorldSBK races at Phillip Island: two 22-lappers at 3:00pm on Saturday and Sunday, and a 10-lap Sprint at midday on Sunday.
Add in World Supersport competition and round one of the 2020 mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship featuring four classes – Superbike, Supersport, Supersport 300 and the Oceania Junior Cup – and there will be a total of 15 races.