sport

Rea relishing shot at title

Britain's Jonathan Rea believes his Pata Honda team have much work to do before he launches his World Superbikes title bid at the weekend.

Rea, who will be looking to better his fifth-place finish from last season, is approaching his fifth full year in the championship and is still looking for his first shot at glory.

The Northern Irishman is optimistic his team will be able to improve his bike before Sunday's opener at the Phillip Island track in Australia after setting the sixth-fastest time in Tuesday's final pre-season test.

"The guys are working very hard and there's still a lot of room for improvement," Rea told the official World Superbikes website.

"I wouldn't say we are confident right now but for sure going into the weekend we are in a much better place than we were at the start of the year."

With Max Biaggi announcing his retirement after winning his second championship in three years, the rest of the paddock will be sensing an opportunity to make their mark.

However, Rea was given a fitness scare before the season had even begun after a crash last week and while he acknowledged he is not at 100 per cent, he confirmed he did not seriously injure a pre-existing complaint.

"I had a big crash at turn two in last week's private testing, which aggravated the conditions of the AC joint that got separated two years ago at Imola," he added.

"After some X-rays I spoke with my surgeon back in the UK and he said that there's no further damage, it's just a bit weak."

Rea also has a new team-mate with compatriot Leon Haslam joining the team from BMW to replace Japan's Hiroshi Aoyama.

And 26-year-old Rea is welcoming the added competition Haslam will provide.

"I have to say that Leon is one of the most competitive team-mates I've had for many years. I find the relationship with Leon to be really strong, we share a lot of data and on the weekend we can both test different settings to make the bike good," added Rea.

"We'll see, right now we are working on different programmes on both sides of the garage, and it's always nice to have the possibility to check his data in case we're struggling, and vice versa."

Tom Sykes, who missed out on the championship by an agonising 0.5 points last season, should be fit to compete despite last week suffering a cracked bone in his left wrist.

Sylvain Guintoli has made the move from satellite team Ducati to full factory-backed crew but he will be filling the huge spot left by Biaggi at Aprilia, while Jules Cluzel and Vittorio Iannuzzo will be looking to impress at Suzuki and BMW Motorrad respectively after both made the step up from World Supersport.