Rea takes Castrol Honda back to top of podium

Jonathan Rea took his Castrol Honda CBR1000RR to the top step of the podium at a sun-drenched Imola in Italy, winning the opening race of this weekend’s eleventh round of the 2011 World Superbike championship.The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland, whose season ended in injury during the corresponding round last year, almost made it a dream return as he also led race two from the moment the lights went out. With only four laps remaining, Rea held a 3.5 second lead over Carlos Checa when a connector on his machine’s battery failed, forcing him to pit.Checa inherited victory to go with his third place in race one, while Noriyuki Haga, who had pushed Rea all the way to the flag in the first outing, finished second again in race two, ahead of Leon Camier.Rea and his Castrol Honda team arrived at Imola seeking to develop a new ride-by-wire system for the 2012 season and the new Honda CBR1000RR which was unveiled at Imola on Friday evening.They admitted to being prepared to sacrifice results in pursuit of that goal but Rea’s team-mate, Ruben Xaus, was also developing the new electronics system. The Spaniard made a big step forward himself in the second race today, finishing just outside the top ten, after placing 17 in race one.Jonathan Rea – 1st and DNF Race one was pretty emotional, because it’s been a long journey back. Last season ended for me here, so it’s a credit to all the people around me – my family, my friends, my girlfriend, and of course the team – who have got me back to the top step. I used last year’s disappointment as a big motivation today and race two was looking really good, too, so it was disappointing not to finish. I know the guys behind me were pushing pretty hard but I felt quite comfortable at the front. We’ve come a long way and I’m not going to get wrapped up in the negative of race two. What happened was a failure of a one-Euro battery connector so in my heart I know we had two really good races today. The biggest result was the continued development of the new electronics system, so I can’t thank the team enough for the faith they’ve shown in me to keep pushing with that development. We’re still looking to improve in other areas, too, not just electronics, so that fills me with confidence for next week in Magny-Cours.Ruben Xaus – 17th and 11th It’s been a hard weekend for me after two months off the bike and trying to develop the new electronics, which I believe will be very strong, at the test last week and then here. Of course, there have been some difficult moments, seeing Johnny (Rea) getting good results while I have struggled, but I have tried to be professional and keep trying as hard as I can. We changed something for race two to improve the engine braking and the lap times were much better. My race time improved by around 15 seconds in the second race, which doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big improvement. I’m looking forward to making some more progress at Magny-Cours next weekend.Ronald ten Kate – team manager Of course, it’s difficult for any of us to be satisfied with the final result of the day. It was clear that it could have been a brilliant weekend for us but we came here with the clear goal of developing the ride-by-wire system and that’s what we’ve done. We can’t help but feel slightly robbed of the win in race two because it was a faulty battery connection, which had nothing to do with the new electronics. On the other hand I think we can all leave this paddock with our heads held high and take the positives to Magny-Cours next weekend. We also saw a big step forward on Ruben’s side as he is developing the system in a good way. He was actually catching the big group in front of him towards the end of race two, so it’s positive all round.2011 World Superbike championship, round 11Imola, Italy (4.936kmkm), 21 laps - results, race one: 1 Jonathan Rea (GBR) Castrol Honda 38m03.396s 2 Noriyuki Haga (JPN) Aprilia +0.111s 3 Carlos Checa (ESP) Ducati +9.499 4 Tom Sykes (GBR) Kawasaki +9.792 5 Eugene Laverty (IRL) Yamaha +14.669 6 Sylvain Guintoli (FRA) Ducati +16.820 17 Ruben Xaus (ESP) Castrol Honda +44.547Race two: 1 Carlos Checa (ESP) Ducati 38m04.538s 2 Noriyuki Haga (JPN) Aprilia +4.631s 3 Leon Camier (GBR) Aprilia +15.159 4 Eugene Laverty (IRL) Yamaha +17.195 5 Leon Haslam (GBR) BMW +17.388 6 Marco Melandri (ITA) Yamaha +18.533 11 Ruben Xaus (ESP) Castrol Honda +28.600Championship points after 11 of 13 rounds:1 Checa 417, 2 Melandri 320, 3 Max Biaggi (ITA) Aprilia 281, 4 Laverty 256, 5 Haslam 187.Next round: Magny-Cours, France – 30 September – 2 October