Can Championship leader Alex Lowes maintain his title challenge? WorldSBK commentator Steve English tries to find the answer.…
It’s not easy to win a WorldSBK title, no matter how Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) has made it seem in recent years, and this year will be more difficult than ever. Whether it’s the COVID-19-induced lockdown or the most competitive grid in years, the 2020 season has the hallmarks of an all-time classic. Keeping a cool head is going to be crucial. Keeping your mind focused on the goal at hand is imperative. Being able to methodically work through your programme and not get distracted is the aim of the game.
In Australia, Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) showed a huge amount of mental fortitude. He stuck to his guns on his debut with Kawasaki by working through his own programme during the week. He wanted to spend time on used tyres and understand what the bike would be like at the end of the races. He was mindful that being fast over a single lap wouldn’t win at Phillip Island; managing the tyres would lead to success.
On Saturday morning, there were murmurs in the pitlane that some within Kawasaki were nervous. Two crashes had left them on the back foot. A third row start did little to quell the noise. With some questioning the signing of Lowes, the pressure was on. He delivered in spades, and his hard work in testing was rewarded with a victory and the early season lead of the World Championship. It was a stunning performance from Lowes and now, with his contract already extended by Kawasaki, the question has turned to can he maintain that form?
Lowes is an experienced campaigner on the world stage. This will be his seventh year in WorldSBK, but for a look at what we can expect from him this year, it’s worth going back to 2013. That season saw Lowes, then 22 years old, going up against Shane Byrne for the British crown. Byrne was the established star of the domestic series with Grand Prix and WorldSBK experience.
The road to racing on a bigger stage went through the champion, and Lowes was determined to prove himself. He was probably too determined at times but his pace, consistency and intelligence shone throughout that campaign and he was rewarded with the title and a switch to Crescent Racing in WorldSBK. He has had the belief since then that he has nothing to fear. His successes at the Suzuka 8 Hours have shown a blend of speed, race craft and team work that again surprised onlookers. Lowes showed those qualities in Australia by beating Rea in a head-to-head battle that came down to cunning and craft as much as speed.
“I rolled off a little mid-corner,” explained Lowes at the time. “I knew that it would mean Jonny would have to close the throttle slightly and lose momentum because otherwise, he would’ve been able to try and slipstream me to the line.”
Keeping a cool head at a time like that is crucial for any successful rider. It might have only been Lowes’ second WorldSBK win but he’s going to add to that tally throughout 2020. Over the years, he’s had some quality teammates: Eugene Laverty, Sylvain Guintoli and Michael van der Mark. But Lowes has consistently had an inner belief in his ability, it’s why he wanted to be tested against Rea, but he’s also had to battle being underestimated. With his future secured early in the season, Lowes can now look forward to building on the success on Round 1. Lowes will win again this year. Underestimate him at your peril.
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