2018 Laguna Seca WorldSBK Notes - The Wild, Wild West of WorldSBK

The American Frontier was about finding a way to survive. To do this, people from all over the world had to work together and find a way to coexist on the open plains and in the mountains. They did this because they knew the rewards could be massive. Unimaginable wealth lay beneath the rivers and mountains of the West Coast, and everyone believed they would find it.

Every racer in the world also believes that the trophies and points are at their fingertips once they have the tools at their disposal. Finding a way to work with a group of people from all over the world and making them believe in you is crucial. The American Dream was founded on the ideal that anything was possible and the Racer's Dream is based on the belief that you're the best in the world and any issues you're having are just a temporary delay of the inevitable.

At Laguna Seca we had proof once again that the Racer's Dream is real. Jonathan Rea was a highly regarded rider prior to moving to Kawasaki in 2015 but since then he has been all but unbeatable. On Sunday he claimed his 62nd WorldSBK and fourth victory at the American venue. The success that the Northern Irishman has enjoyed has been unprecedented but, at least for Rea, was the gold he'd been seeking in a river bed.

The original prospectors went wading into the rivers in the goldfields west of Monterey to find their prize. It was tough, arduous work with great rewards. The life of a racer is filled with the toil of injuries but also offers great rewards. Rea has been able to hit the jackpot in recent years but every other rider on the grid feels they are just inches away from their own moment in the sun.

At Laguna Seca we might have seen Rea claim his second double of the season but up and down the paddock almost every rider felt they had reasons for optimism in the future.

Dumping the monkey

Eugene Laverty was back on the podium for the first time in four years on Sunday after another weekend of promise. The Irishman has endured lean times in recent years but like a prospector he always believed his hard work would pay off.

“The monkey is off my back,” said Laverty. “All that ‘so nearly on the podium’, I've never had that in my career before. I've usually just gone out and won. When I first raced in WorldSSP I won my fourth race. When I first raced in WorldSBK I won at Monza which was the fourth round. I've never had that kind of thing drag on for a year and a half. Nearly, nearly, nearly. I have never been that guy. So that was a little bit of a monkey on the back and probably played on me mentally too. It's nice to be able to relax now and settle in to a race weekend without thinking, ‘Oh, it would be so nice to get a podium.’”

The Racer's Dream means that a rider always believes they are on the cusp of success. For Laverty and the Milwaukee Aprilia team they certainly felt they were on the verge of the rewards for their hard work. At the PATA Yamaha squad they actually proved the value of their hard work in 2018 despite not adding to their win tally.

Progress made

Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark both joined the list of winners in the last two rounds of WorldSBK, but claiming a podium and top five finishes did almost as much to prove the development of their YZF-R1. Lowes struggled in the second half of races throughout the early rounds of the season due to the feeling he gets from the electronics package. Having always been a strong rider in the closing stages he believes that if Yamaha can continue to improve this, he will continue to challenge at the front. The Racer's Dream always makes a rider believe that they are ready to win.

“The podium feels like a good result,” said Lowes after Race 1. “I am surprised but I was strong at the start and in the second half of the race I was just trying to stay there. I have been solid all weekend and took advantage the best I could. We have not got the pace of the other guys so we need to make sure we race well and put ourselves in position, which that is what we did.

“I'm really excited about going to Misano next. Michael led for 14 laps there last year, so we know the bike can get around the track. It is a track that I do enjoy, a great place, and everybody enjoys going to Misano. It is the last one before the big summer break, so we will try to get back on the podium.”

Move on?

The dream lives on for Lowes and his recent run of form has put him in contention for the top three in the championship. At the moment he sits 13 points behind fourth-placed Tom Sykes, and while the Englishman is not having his strongest season, one win and six podiums, he still believes that he's on the verge of success. All racers will believe they are close to success but in their heart a World Champion knows that they are only a moment away from turning things around. Issues are there to be corrected and problems overcome because they have proven that they can get the job done.

Sykes title in 2013 is the proof of what he can achieve when the bike is underneath him but having been now five years removed from his success doubt creeps in.

If Laverty had a monkey on his back Sykes has had a gorilla. The belief and self-confidence it takes to win a title is massive and even now the Englishman believes 100% in his ability to dominate again.

“At the moment Jonathan is doing an incredible job and his riding style and the bike work perfectly together,” said Sykes on Sunday. “It looks easy for him, and as you can see, he is certainly getting the results in this moment for Kawasaki. My riding potential is not in question and we'll see what the future brings in the next races. The only thing I can be sure is that my speed is not under question. The sheer speed from myself is at the top level and it is only a matter of time before I can turn that into race results.”

The Rider's Dream is like the American Dream. A deep-seated belief that you're on your way to your first million, a belief that regardless of circumstances you're just a moment from winning races again. Results can knock a rider's confidence momentarily, but it can't knock their belief in the dream that they're on their way to the wins and championships their talent and dedication deserves.

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It’s got to be demoralizing lining up against Johnny Rea week in and week out.  Even with the rules changes, he still dominates.  How many titles will he collect before it’s all said and done?  He’s WSBK’s Marquez AND a bag of chips.  Still amazed he spent so much time whipping that Honda and they never got with the program and developed a winning bike for him.  I’m amazed the manufacturers don’t care about this series or the talent here.

Using Steve’s analogy, Rea has struck a deep, rich seam after years of digging and little reward for the hard work. He isn’t working harder or better, he’s just set up in the right place. Sykes struck a seam, then Dorna or someone moved it, or it ran out. The same applies to Davies. I don’t think his talent is much different to Rea’s but they are all in a game of very small margins. Rea is talented but also lucky.

Marquez is a supreme talent. I’m not a fan, for reasons I’m not sure of, but I think he’s ahead of the pack at the moment - his bike allows him to ride like he does and no-one comes close in the elbow-knee-crash recovery stakes. He has all the chips at present. That will change as sure as night follows day.

To believe in one's self is natural, a key to winning, but no world class athlete is at his or her best for very long, and the belief generally lasts a lot longer than the skill. Maybe Tom Sykes is just on the downward slide. While his riding style is very different from Rea's, they are on the same bike after all.

Likewise, while the Pata Honda was no dream bike, JR65 also may not yet have figured it all out back then--when he did have success with the Honda he over-rode it and managed not to crash. He has a better bike now, but he is also a much better racer.

P.S. if you're looking for gold west of Monterey bring scuba gear.

Excellent write up Steve!   I like the tie in to the local prospectors.  Fits nicely.   I'm just getting back into WSBK so nice to see people like you covering. 

Keep up the good fight!