Turn 1 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is little more than a kink in the front straight – just a slight shift to the left after cresting a hill as the track drops toward the complicated hairpin.
But to four-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, it’s enough to make a rider’s stomach leap.
“Both wheels leave the ground, and you’re changing direction completely blind – it’s really scary,” he says. “And directly after that you have to find the braking point [for the hairpin].”
Thanks to a hat trick at Donington Park in England – with wins in both races and the sprint – Rea leads the World Superbike field as teams prepare for the U.S. round. The Kawasaki rider enters the race weekend with 376 points, closely followed by Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista (352). With 206 points, Yamaha rider Michael van der Mark is a distant third.
So far, the 2019 season has been a duel between Rea and Bautista. The Spanish rider took the first eight races before Rea broke through in Italy. But Rea ran second on seven occasions, keeping steady in points. And Bautista has struggled of late, claiming just two podiums while his British counterpart racked up four consecutive race wins.
“I guess it’s fun – the championship is quite close,” Rea observes of the two-rider battle. “I’m just race by race.”
World Superbike events include points races on both Saturday and Sunday, with a 10-lap sprint race – called the Superpole – on Sunday morning to determine pole position for Race 2. Points are awarded on a scale, with 25 to the winner, 20 for second and so on down to 1 point for 15th. Superpole starts at 12 for the top spot. So the overall championship can swing quickly.
Laguna Seca is the ninth stop of a globetrotting 13-event season that ends at Doha, Qatar in October. After three wins in the last four World Superbike races at WeatherTech Raceway, it might seem as if Rea has the track sorted. Yet the Kawasaki rider admits victories at the legendary course are hardly routine.
“To be honest, there’s nothing that really suits me about Laguna,” Rea explains. “It has so many different characters, so it’s more about finding a good rhythm.”
Still, the British rider seeks his fourth consecutive win at Laguna Seca and his fifth consecutive world title.
“It’s one of my favorite races, not just because of the circuit, but the atmosphere, the fans,” Rea says.