Jonathan Rea will return to the scene of his last World Superbike victory this weekend when the 2012 season resumes at Imola. The Ulsterman won the opening race of the meeting in September after holding off Noriyuki Haga and after scoring 22 points on the opening weekend of this campaign, there are plenty of reasons for Rea to be optimistic.
“I can't tell you how excited I am at the prospect of riding my bike again this weekend. It seems like a lifetime since the opening round in Phillip Island so I'm raring to go again at Imola. I love racing in Italy – the food, the culture, everything about it is special – and Imola has some pretty special memories for me, especially winning last year after a long injury lay-off. That was the first time we rolled out on the ride-by-wire system last year and we've done a lot of work on it since then, so it'll be really interesting to benchmark where we are against our performance last season. I've been doing a lot of thinking and a lot of research since Phillip Island and I'm looking forward to putting what I've learned into practice this weekend.”
Teammate Hiroshi Aoyama had a difficult start to his World Superbike career in Australia although he did score points in both races. The Japanese rider now faces another challenge with Imola a track he hasn't raced at before.
“Of course, Imola is a new circuit for me but I am looking forward to riding there very much. I have looked at a lot of videos from Formula 1 and World Superbike races and I can see a lot of very fast corners. It looks like a great track to ride on and with all its history it will be a very special weekend for me. I learned a lot about the championship in the first round at Phillip Island and I know now that the gap from the front is not so great and a small improvement can give you a big jump forward. I still have a lot to learn with the bike and the tyres, but the team was working very well at Phillip Island and we made some good progress. I hope to continue that at Imola this weekend.”
Honda team manager Ronald ten Kate admits that the team learned lessons from the Australian weekend and hopes to be challenging for podium positions in Italy.
“Imola brought us a breakthrough last year with Jonathan's return from injury and a new electronics package enabling us to fight once more for wins and podiums, so, of course, it holds special memories for us and we're happy to be back again so soon. On the other hand, it's another circuit and another race weekend, and it would be foolish to rely on past results, so we'll take nothing for granted. It's been a long break since the first round at Phillip Island where I believe we probably made too many changes to the bike and lost our rhythm a little. We'll slow down a little and develop our race craft this weekend to try and get the results that we all want. Of course, it's Hiroshi-san's first visit to Imola but we know that he's been studying a lot of old footage. We'll aim to combine that with some of Jonathan's data to start the ball rolling on Friday and try to have him near the front in time for Sunday's races.”