Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: The Inside Jobs

Gordon Ritchie has covered World Superbikes for over a quarter of a century, and is widely regarded as the world's leading journalist on the series. MotoMatters.com is delighted to be hosting a monthly blog by Ritchie. The full blog will be available each month for MotoMatters.com subscribers. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

After the first few races of the 2021 WorldSBK championship some trends have already become apparent.

One, the usual one, is that nine races/nine podium man Jonathan Rea is leading the championship by a fair margin of 20 points. That’s equivalent to a second place in a full race. Four 2021 race wins under his awning already, he became the first rider to smash through the 100 race victory barrier in WorldSBK history at the opening round.

Two, Toprak Razgatlioglu is now turning into the more rounded, consistent force his talents have always pointed towards. Maybe his factory Yamaha too? Hence it is he and not two-time race winner Scott Redding who went from 35 points behind Jonathan Rea after Estoril to 20 points behind after the long-awaited return of Misano after two years. Redding is himself a full race win of 25 points behind Razgatlioglu. So that’s 45 points - yes, numerology is clearly not just for cranks and conspiracists - of deficit to the leader for the person many thought would challenge Rea most strongly after his great 2020 ‘rookie’ season. And he still might, of course. He’s still many people’s best bet, for obvious reasons.

In the bag?

To digress for a purpose early in this column, that’s a reality that contains a paradoxical parallax perspective. From one pre-season view you could see how Rea could do that disappearing act to anybody, given his six-in-a-row domination since he joined Kawasaki and his uncanny ability to overcome issues in races.

From another, off-centre view of the WorldSBK rankings after nine races and three rounds, 45 points is already too much to reasonably claw back to somebody like Rea. Although, yes, we all know it is only just gone round three of a scheduled 13. Just possibly though, ‘JR’ could have made his greatest step against his supposed greatest challenge of the championship already. Season management is Rea’s superpower, after all, and 45 points ahead of Redding already is dream territory for Rea.

And all this despite Rea losing the 500 or so extra peak revs he and his manufacturer expected to have from the new Ninja ZX-10RR just a few days before (and several winter tests at higher revs after) the season started. Whatever the rights and perceived wrongs, it could have been a real sucker punch before the bell for round one had even been rung, But the reality so far? Well, look at the points table.

Home grown

The third trend that has already raised its head? The other non-Redding race-winning and podium-scoring forces amassing behind Rea, should he slip-up, are actually all WorldSBK paddock products. Born and bred on production-derived machines inside WorldSBK after early careers mostly spent on modified road machines at National level. And even the most potent all-new WorldSBK riders at Misano were either WorldSBK paddock or national production-derived series graduates.

The significance of this is important for the pride, self-respect and the internal viability of this championship, especially as former Moto3 and Moto2 riders have been coming over to WorldSSP racing in particular and cleaning up in many past seasons. The 2018 WorldSSP champion was Sandro Cortese (Moto3 champ and Moto2 force), then it was Randy Krummenacher (from Moto2) in 2019 and most recently Andrea Locatelli (another Moto3/2 regular). The latter is already lining up on the WorldSBK grid itself in 2021.

But with Michael Ruben Rinaldi screaming his way to two popular WorldSBK home wins, and Toprak scoring his first WorldSBK race win of the year at Misano in Race Two, it was Superbike paddock graduates and its one true megastar all over the podium celebrations at MWC Marco Simoncelli. Production bike school and college graduates and now ‘real-world’ captains of the WorldSBK podium industries have been in the ascendancy again of late.

But Rea, the six-timer and all-timer, is still out front of them all. That next step, consistent Rea-bashing and then overhauling, is not going to be easy for anybody. Rea is that good.

Beating Johnny Rea

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The past couple years have been wild. We need a documentary of Ducati in 2019. Throw in 2020 for much the same reason. Lots of fast guys right now but nearly impossible to match Rea's consistency; I almost feel it can't be overstated how crazy it has been. Even luck is often on his side. Misano 2019 crash, bike rolled over him and he got up to finish 5th? Bautista crashes would be race-enders. Or Aragon recently, Gerloff punting him off track in the wet, in the gravel, and Rea kept it pinned and recovered? His crash save on his elbow at Misano as well? Too good!

Rea is SUCH a great Superbike rider. As we often say it would be more fun having him on a slightly lesser bike, which is a compliment to the crazy tit overdog. Not going dry any time soon. Appreciating what wee Green has done with their program and bike.

Redding looks better than this Duc is showing. I keep getting suckered by new bikes, seeing one coming to roost on top. First red, then the Honda, just recently even the BMW. Toprak - Yamaha looks great now. Is more coming from a few bikes still developing? Now should be sorted time to shine for several! 

The great LA Dodgers executive Branch Rickey once said, "Luck is the residue of design." I think that to call any of those circumstances just luck is a disservice to the natural talent and prodigious skill level of Jonathan Rea (even if he himself passes such things off as luck).

When these incidents would have almost any other rider lying in the gravel, time after time Rea manages to salvage a strong result from his mistakes. We are witnessing a generational talent in WSBK. It certainly would have been very interesting to see what could have been for Jonathan in Motogp with the right team.

 I am not a fanboy of Rea. Each season I wait to see if anyone can bring the fight to him and knock him off his perch. So far, each attempt has withered under the relentless consistency of results the guy puts up every race weekend.

Rea's time in MotoGP has passed - he was a devoted servant to Honda from his days back in BSB and then into WSB with the odd ride in Motogp - but got nowhere and the opportunity with Kawasaki presented itself. The bike and team are proven race winners - lets not forget that Tom Sykes won a world championship on a Kawasaki and was close to a second - but Tom is not metronomic like Rea is.

of course he is a good rider, but by no means is he a threat for Rea. He'll win some more races but that's it.

Agreed - he's like Chaz Davies. Redding needs to be winning all the races and hope that Rea falls off or comes 4th or lower. Trouble is with Redding he comes in fourth behind his team mate/Toprak/Rea and that doesnt win you championship. I worry whether Redding will have his contract renewed at end of the year or Ducati will promote another hot shot.