Jonathan Rea will be aiming to underpin his excellent record at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand this weekend as he strives to claw back ground on World Superbike Championship leader Alvaro Bautista.
Spaniard Bautista was a sensation on his race debut on the Aruba.it Ducati V4 R at Phillip Island in Australia last month, where he won all three races on the Italian machine to open a gap of 13 points at the top over Rea, who claimed the runner-up spot on each occasion on the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR.
The spotlight has been shining brightly on former MotoGP rider Bautista after an explosive start to his WSBK career and Rea could be facing his stiffest challenge yet as he bids for an historic fifth crown.
However, it is too early to say with any real certainty that Bautista will be the man to take the fight to the Ulsterman this season.
This weekend’s races in Buriram and the upcoming run of European rounds will provide a truer picture of the 2006 125cc Grand Prix world champion’s title credentials.
Rea’s goal tomorrow and on Sunday is to tick off his first victory of 2019 as he chases his 72nd career WSBK triumph.
The omens look good for the 32-year-old, who has won six of the eight races at the Chang International Circuit since it was introduced to the calendar in 2015, including double successes in 2015 and 2017.
Rea said: “Thailand is a great venue and one that always welcomes a lot of fans, especially Kawasaki support. The circuit is one of two halves; the first being fast stop-and-go sections and then the flowing final sectors, which play to the strength of the Ninja ZX-10RR set-up.
“Friday will be important to nail that set-up and understand our level. I’m excited to start. We have enjoyed some great success there in the past, so the goal is to build on our results from Phillip Island.
“I’ve spent a few days in Bangkok already with Kawasaki Thailand, visiting their factory and taking part in the Kawasaki Day, so the atmosphere is building nicely.”
Rea freely acknowledges that his unprecedented winning streak will not last indefinitely, although the Ballyclare man does not believe his domination is about to end just yet.
“I’ve always said that we can’t win forever, and someone is going to step up and beat me,” said Rea. “I’ve won for the last four years but maybe this could be the time for it to end. I don’t feel like it’s the time. I feel like we’ve just got to keep on working.
“There are so many races left. With Pere [Riba], we know how to do this, and we’ve been in these circumstances before. I’ve stepped up my preparation over the winter and changed it up,” he told the official World Superbike website.
“I’m really proud of how I’ve approached the last few years. You need to find motivation all the time. It’s so easy after one world championship or two to take your foot off the gas and feel like you’ve made it.”
Free practice takes place today, with race one scheduled for 09:00 GMT tomorrow.
The Superpole sprint race and the second full-length race will take place on Sunday.