Like so many others, the Ducati racer isn’t sure what impact new World Superbike rules will have on the championship
This past season Chaz Davies once again offered the biggest challenge to Jonathan Rea’s recent dominance of World Superbike. The Welshman ultimately fell short of claiming his first series title, finishing second overall to Rea in the championship point standings. Could 2018 be a case of lucky number seven for Davies?
The Ducati star is embarking on his seventh season in production racing’s premier class and the only thing missing from his résumé is the title. He has been a contender for three years, and the lessons learned in the past should leave him in good stead when the new campaign gets underway in late February at Phillip Island in Australia. Winning is a habit for any world-class racer and Davies is keen to put the lessons of the past to good use to ensure he gets into that habit again.
“This season was a little mixed for us,” Davies admitted. “We had some good races, some bad races, and overall we can’t be disappointed with winning races and finishing second in the championship. It was a good year but we wanted more than that at the start of the year. We didn’t make it happen and there are some regrettable races from the season. I’d have to say the crash in Portugal is the biggest moment that stands out in my mind. I’ve never crashed out of a race like that, but we also had some great races. It was a mixed bag for us but just not fantastic.”
Anything less than fantastic wasn’t going to be enough to beat Rea in 2017. The Northern Irishman was at the top of his game throughout the season, and the work done by Kawasaki ensured the ZX-10RR was the class of the field. Rea made history with a single-season point record and with momentum against him from the outset it created a unique dynamic for Davies. Knowing that any mistake would be punished heavily created a unique set of circumstances. Just clicking off the races and scoring points were never going to be enough.
“Even having better weekends on our weak tracks still wouldn’t have been enough for us to win the title this year,” he said. “We were second best for a reason in 2017 and with or without our mistakes it wouldn’t have been enough. People always say that to win championships you have to score points in every race but with what Johnny has been able to do he can fight from the front with a margin.
“He was always winning, and to beat a rider like that you have to win races not score points. Those five points keep mounting up and it does make it difficult. Our goal is to make sure for next year we’re closer to them and can fight in those opening races. I felt that I had to take some risks to make it work and crashes can be a consequence of that. I’ve no regrets, though, about what’s happened, but it would be nice to have that bit of a buffer like what Johnny has had.”
While Rea may have breathing room throughout the season in terms of his point lead, there were moments when he could feel the pressure from Davies breathing down his neck. At times, the Ducati was the fastest bike on track and, at Imola and Lausitzring, Davies was able to rack up double victories.
The pair also had their skirmishes on track, and while tensions reached the boiling point in parc ferme at Assen, Misano left its marks on both riders. Fighting on the last lap in the closing stages, Davies crashed and Rea, with nowhere to go, ran over his rival. It was a dramatic incident and Davies was forced to sit out race two after a night in hospital. The 30-year-old Davies was left with a broken vertebra but it also led to one of the most memorable race wins of his career.
“Obviously,” Davies said, “you think about crashes like Misano and it was risky, but you need to have a mentality in racing where you can separate those incidents and get ready for the next race. In the weeks after Misano, I had a lot of physio and it’s impossible to ignore the pain, but once you show up you’re ready to ride and get back on top form.
“If you can come through an injury and race, it means a lot, and being able to get to the start line at Laguna Seca is probably one of the races of my career that I’m proudest of—how you think after those accidents, how you feel on the bike, how you feel off the bike, and being stiff as you walk around the paddock. You only have two options on race day and I’m proud to have raced and won.”
Davies has shown the speed to win in recent years, but with a raft of technical changes coming in 2018, the championship should have a very different complexion. The goal of the regulations is to increase the competition at the front of the field, but Davies feels that the field has already been tightened in recent months.