WSBK: Jonathan Rea set for World Superbike opener at Phillip Island

World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea during the final test at Phillip Island in Australia.
World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea during the final test at Phillip Island in Australia.

Jonathan Rea is paying little attention to his rivals as the Ulster rider prepares to open the defence of his World Superbike crown this weekend at Phillip Island in Australia.

The three-time world champion topped the final test overall this week at the famous circuit and is in ominous form heading into the opening race of 2018, which takes place on Saturday at 4am UK time.

Rea boasts an excellent record at Phillip Island over the past three years, winning on his Kawasaki debut in 2015 and claiming double victories in 2016 and 2017.

The 31-year-old is the favourite to seal a record-equalling fourth world championship this season but despite the weight of expectation on his shoulders, Rea has been there and done it all before and says he is focusing solely on his own game plan this weekend.

“Everyone has different strategies but I haven’t looked at anyone else’s times and I just try to focus on what I need to do,” he said.

“We will be able to understand if we can race for the podium, or the win, and see where we stand in practice but I’m just concentrating on myself.

“This week we managed to confirm all the items we’ve been testing during the off-season, including another set of front forks, and even with the wind staying strong we completed the work we needed to.

“I managed to do a race simulation, which gave us more information and we are better equipped for the race now,” added Rea.

“I was really starting to enjoy riding the bike and I had a big smile out there, which is something that has been missing these last few tests, so I’m really happy and I’m ready to race.”

Rea will be aiming to make his customary flying start in the opening rounds of the championship in Australia and Thailand, which has allowed him to put his opposition under pressure from the off during his three title-winning seasons.

New regulations introduced this year have restricted Kawasaki’s machines to 14,100rpm, but there has been little evidence so far of any negative impact on Rea or his KRT team-mate Tom Sykes.

Once again, Ducati’s Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri will be looking to take the fight to the Kawasaki duo, with Pata Yamaha’s Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark also among the chief protagonists.

British rider Leon Camier will also be eager to get in on the act after an impressive pre-season programme on the Red Bull Honda, while former MotoGP rider Loris Baz has joined the championship after signing for the Gulf Althea BMW team.

Northern Ireland is also strongly represented by Eugene Laverty, who intends to make his presence felt on the Milwaukee Aprilia after something of a mixed bag in 2017.

The 31-year-old was fourth quickest overall in the Phillip Island test this week and Laverty says he feels much better equipped to make his mark.

“Everyone is excited ahead of round one this weekend, we’re in a good position and I’m excited to get back on track,” Laverty said.

“My aim for the weekend is to be top six or better, considering we are in the mix more now. The thing we can’t rely on is the weather, which could be wet, but it will be wet for everybody and we’ll get stuck in and I’ll push for the best result I can get.

“I think the key here has been continuity with the team and the data, and understanding the Aprilia more and more,” he added.

“For sure we are in better shape than last year.”

Meanwhile, Laverty’s brother and Tyco BMW British Superbike rider Michael has joined the BT Sport presenting team for this year’s MotoGP coverage.

The news came as BT Sport announced a deal to continue broadcasting the series for a further three years until 2021.