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SBK, Phillip ‘Poker’ Island: Rea plays his cards face up, others close to their chest

TEST ANALYSIS: Rea is a fox, but there are three wolves lurking who prefer to remain hidden before attacking the prey

SBK: Phillip ‘Poker’ Island: Rea plays his cards face up, others close to their chest

Two days of relaxation, the opportunity to momentarily switch off before diving into the race weekend. At this point, the riders tend to meet up in the streets of Cowes, a seaside resort 15 minutes away from the Phillip Island track, exchange a few words, go running to keep fit and admire the Australian landscape.

There is a carefree and relaxed air waiting for the engines to start up again on Friday, on the occasion of FP1. At the moment, therefore, all that remains is to look at the two days of tests on Monday and Tuesday to try and draw the first conclusions. It’s certainly not easy, especially because Phillip Island is a particular track; moreover, they are tackling the opening race of the season, where tyres play a fundamental role as always. Some riders think it will be a race where tyre management is vital, without taking too many risks while there are others who perhaps want to take a big gamble. In the end, however, nobody wants to show their cards ahead of time, as if it were in some ways a game of poker.

The fact is that Johnny Rea and Kawasaki made it clear that they were starting as favourites, so much so that on Tuesday he hammered out a series of low 1m31s laps. An enviable pace, even though it is still too early to reach hasty conclusions, since we will have to see what the track conditions are like on Saturday. In these two days the weather has in some ways been an ally of the riders, as the track temperature has never exceeded 30 degrees, compared to over 40 one year ago. A possible surge in temperatures could become a serious problem.

Going back to the tests, someone who could question Rea's quest for victory are the Yamahas. This is the case of Toprak Razgatlioglu and Michael van der Mark, who with the R1 aim to knock the five-time world champion off his throne. Over one lap the Turk showed his potential, while on race pace there is still some doubt in terms of consistency. On the other hand, the Dutchman managed to keep pace with the Kawasaki man, so much so that Johnny indicated him as his main rival.

Watch out however, as there is a third duellist who has arrived on the scene, a man born to fight, Scott Redding. In the comparison with Rea, the Aruba rider was about one-tenth of a second down and this detail should not be overlooked, even though for Scott it remains to be seen what the behaviour of the tyre will be in view of the race, since it will be his first time with a Superbike at Phillip Island. It is only this last aspect that leaves some question marks, even though the #45 has all the right cards to fight for the victory. Instead, his partner Davies remained in the shadows, as well as Tom Sykes (BMW), who didn’t use the final day to carry out his long run.

Finally, a word about Honda. As far as we can see, the man to bet on at HRC is undoubtedly Leon Haslam. Consistently close to the top, Leon has shown that he has all the right cards to fight for the podium in Australia, despite being four-tenths away from Rea. More worrying is the situation of Alvaro Bautista, who is one second down on the pace of his 2019 rival.

As mentioned, Phillip Island is an indecipherable track and going all-in is likely to be madness. Better to wait for someone to make the first move, as long as they aren't bluffing…


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