Jonathan Rea returns to World Superbike action this weekend (21-23 September) to contest the penultimate round of the 2012 series. He will join Honda World Superbike team-mate Hiroshi Aoyama at the undulating and challenging Autódromo Internacional do Algarve near Portimao in Portugal.
Rea made his MotoGP debut with Honda last Sunday at Misano in Italy, standing in for the injured Casey Stoner and finishing in a creditable eighth place. But he is relishing the prospect of returning to the 4.592km Portimao circuit on his Honda Fireblade in the third instalment of his five-week, back-to-back SBK-MotoGP odyssey.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland contested his first World Superbike races at Portimao in the final round of the 2008 season and immediately developed a special affinity with the demanding circuit. Rea, who has been on the Portuguese rostrum in each of his five race finishes since that debut, took pole position and two third places in the corresponding SBK round last season.
In stark contrast, Rea’s CBR1000RR-mounted team-mate, Hiroshi Aoyama, has never ridden at the roller-coaster Portimao circuit, but has been studying previous race videos intently before his first visit this weekend.
The 30-year-old Japanese rider will be looking to harness the form he displayed at another new circuit recently – Moscow Raceway in Russia – where he competed in his first Superpole qualifying sessions.
I’m really looking forward to this weekend because I love riding at Portimao – it’s a very challenging circuit from a rider’s point of view. It’s also where I had my first World Superbike race so it holds some special memories for me. We made some positive steps with the Fireblade at Nurburgring but there’s still lots more to do, especially with the electronics, working on acceleration on the side of the tyre to improve corner exit. We also need to develop the engine characteristics to smooth out the power delivery, so there’s a bit to do. It certainly won’t be easy but I think we can approach the weekend with some confidence in our challenge because the bike has gone well at Portimao in the past and I have a pretty good connection with the circuit.
I have never been to Portimao before so I am looking forward to seeing the track. I have watched some videos of other races and it looks very interesting, especially the first and last corners. There are also many up and down sections and my team has told me that there are some blind corners as well. I will do many laps on the scooter when I arrive in Portugal but this is nothing compared to my race bike. We will start with the same base setting that we have used in the last few races and probably not make many changes until I understand the racetrack a bit better. It looks like a difficult track to learn but I am looking forward to riding at Portimao this weekend.
Ronald ten Kate – team manager
It feels a little weird to be sitting on the settee at home watching Jonathan riding in MotoGP and then to have him live and for real in our garage the following weekend. It’s certainly not the easiest way for him to go racing but, on the other hand, these are probably the most exciting few weeks of his career so far. The technical demands of the Portimao circuit have always suited Jonathan so we’re hoping we can build on his experience and his previous results here this weekend. For Hiroshi, however, the circuit is completely new and he’ll soon find out that the layout is unlike any other circuit in the world. He might need every available lap this weekend just to learn Portimao, but I’m sure he’ll have fun doing it!
2012 World Superbike championship, round 13
Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, Portugal – weekend schedule (local times – GMT+1)
Friday 21 September
11.45-12.30 Free practice
15.30-16.15 Qualifying 1
Saturday 22 September
09.45-10.30 Qualifying 2
12.30-13.15 Free practice
15.00-15.14 Superpole 1
15.21-15.33 Superpole 2
15.40-15.50 Superpole 3
Sunday 23 September
12.00 Race 1 (22 laps 101.024km)
15.30 Race 2 (22 laps 101.024km)