Rea mounts World Superbike defence

Jonathan Rea: "For me, Phillip Island is the nicest track on the calendar."
Jonathan Rea: "For me, Phillip Island is the nicest track on the calendar."

Five-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea has galvanised himself for one of the toughest challenges of his career at this weekend's opening round of the 2020 Superbike World Championship at Phillip Island.

While the 33-year-old completed a final two-day pre-season test on Tuesday quickest of a 19-rider field, he's well aware a mere half second separates the top six.

All five WorldSBK manufacturers including Rea's Kawasaki outfit are represented.

Breathing down his neck in testing were Frenchman Loris Baz (Yamaha), Tom Sykes (BMW), Toprak Razgatlioglu (Yamaha), Leon Haslam (Honda) and Scott Redding (Ducati).

"We had a really good test, where I felt good with the bike," Rea said before Friday's practice sessions ahead of weekend qualifying and racing.

"I feel great, this is the closest thing I get to a home race as I spend a lot of time here ... and my wife was born here.

"For me, Phillip Island is the nicest track on the calendar; very unique, very fast, lots of fourth and fifth gear corners."

With Rea in great shape to defend his title, the biggest intrigue ahead of round one is Redding on the Phillip Island-loving Ducati, with the manufacturer having won the last five WorldSBK races at the circuit.

At 28, he has a wealth of experience having raced MotoGP and most recently won the British Superbike Championship. He's also a former Moto2 title runner-up.

"Now going into the race weekend, everything is new for me again with the three race format," Redding said.

"I'll take it step at a time, not overthink too many things and get out and race."

Twenty two-lap races will be held at 3pm on Saturday and Sunday, and a 10-lap sprint at midday on Sunday.

With fine weather predicted for Phillip Island this weekend - the 30th time world superbikes has been held at the circuit - the racing is expected to be 'old-school' with a freight train of riders drafting and jostling until the last.

Sixteen-year-old Oli Bayliss (Yamaha), the son of Troy Bayliss, will make his international debut as a wildcard entry in Sunday's World Supersport race.

Australian Associated Press