Jonathan Rea was out-gunned by chief World Superbike rival Toprak Razgatlioglu in France, but the reigning champion says he is ready for title fight that lies ahead.
ea is bidding to win the world crown for a staggering seventh successive year after dominating the series since his move to Kawasaki in 2015.
Three of his six title successes were put to bed at Magny-Cours, leaving the Northern Ireland man with many special memories at the French circuit.
However, it was Turkish rider Razgatlioglu who dominated the eighth round of the championship, albeit the Pata Yamaha star was denied a maiden career hat-trick when he was penalised for exceeding the track limits in yesterday’s Superpole sprint race.
Razgatlioglu had fended off Rea to take his second win of the weekend by 0.3s, but the 24-year-old was later demoted one place, handing Rea a somewhat hollow victory — his ninth of the season.
Razgatlioglu, though, has opened a slight advantage of seven points over the six-time champion after he won Saturday’s first race by over four seconds, before also getting the better of Rea in the second 21-lap event to win by 2.9s yesterday.
Rea kept the pressure on the championship leader in the final race of the weekend, but he lost touch in the closing stages after surviving a front-end slide and deciding to settle for the runner-up spot.
The title battle looks poised to go right down to the wire and Rea admits Razgatlioglu and his Yamaha team pose a formidable challenge as he bids to retain his title.
“I feel like we salvaged all we could and I really felt better, step by step, during the weekend,” Rea said.
“The team made good changes to the bike, so I could fight with Toprak for a lot of that race.
“At the very end his pace was just so fast in the last quarter of the race and I had a few warnings from the bike, with some front slides, so I decided to consolidate my position and roll off the gas.
“It’s hard to do that sometimes, but we have to be very happy with our points haul and how we were able to improve the bike, work as a team and never give up.
“When the tyre is fresh for 10 laps I feel quite confident. I knew if I was going to have a solid chance to have a race win then it would be the Superpole race. The game is moving, it’s fast and Toprak is doing a really good job with his team, but I refuse to give up, keep fighting and hopefully we can find something a little bit stronger in Barcelona.”
British rider Scott Redding dropped more ground in the championship race after he finished 12th on Saturday after sliding off and re-joining the action.
The Ducati rider finished fifth in the Superpole race and ended the weekend with a podium as he took third in race two, although the 28-year-old is now 72 points behind Razgatlioglu in the standings.
With eight wins so far this season, Razgatlioglu is standing toe-to-toe with Rea, but the Magny-Cours double winner is refusing to get carried away at the prospect of becoming Turkey’s first motorcycling world champion.
“I’m really happy because my team has done an incredible job, every race we have improved the bike and we are happy,” he said.
“There are very many races so I’m not looking at the championship, I’m just focused on every race and I will fight in every race to win.”
Eugene Laverty was absent for a fourth straight round due to internal issues within his RC Squadra Corse BMW team.
Round nine of the championship will take place at Catalunya in Barcelona from September 17-19, followed by consecutive rounds at Jerez in Spain (September 24-26) and Portimao in Portugal (October 1-3).
RESULTS, Race 1: 1 T Razgatlioglu (Yamaha); 2 J Rea (Kawasaki) +4.467s; 3 A Locatelli (Yamaha) +10.285s; 4 M Rinaldi (Ducati) +13.283s; 5 M VD Mark (BMW) +15.535s; 6 A Bautista (Team HRC) +17.824s.
Superpole race: 1 J Rea (Kawasaki); 2 T Razgatlioglu (Yamaha) +0.148s; 3 A Lowes (Kawasaki) +5.282s; 4 A Locatelli (Yamaha) +6.643s; 5 S Redding (Ducati) +7.384s; 6 M VD Mark (Yamaha) +8.119s.
Race 2: 1 T Razgatlioglu (Yamaha); 2 J Rea (Kawasaki) +2.908s; 3 S Redding (Ducati) +8.406s; 4 A Locatelli (Yamaha) +10.329s; 5 C Davies (Ducati) +10.734s; 6 A Bautista (Team HRC) +11.467s.