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Jonathan Rea at the 2018 WorldSBK Motul Dutch round
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From the depths of a champion’s den: A WorldSBK Mechanic’s weekend

Jul 032018

Oriol (‘Uri’) Pallares is the Chief Mechanic for Jonathan Rea. This means the 35 year old is more than familiar with the taste, smell and sticky residue of podium champagne. Aside from a record three consecutive World Superbike titles, Pallares has helped Rea to appear on the rostrum 83 times from 94 appearances in green; 47 of those on the top step in just three and a half years.

The combination of Rea, Kawasaki and his Barcelona-based crew is one of the strongest success stories in motorcycle racing this century. The impact has been crushing. Pallares has been at the heart of the superiority: the teamwork, the trust, the hard work and the provision of a motorcycle for Rea to exact every crumb of his talent and judgement.

We wondered what a race weekend is like for the Catalan, how he collaborates with Rea, the rest of the team and what might be the best parts of the job…

 

A WorldSBK round means an early start and almost a week from home…

Depending on flight times then we leave home Tuesday so we are ready to start work at the circuit first thing on Wednesday. We spend the day building up the pitbox. Thursday we prepare the bikes and then practice starts on Friday. So it is almost a full week before we are home again but I tend to find that it passes very quickly. Wednesday can be quite busy. People tend to assume that if the pitbox is bigger then it takes more time to organise it but actually it’s the reverse because with smaller spaces you have to think and be more creative with how everything can be laid out. A circuit like Motorland is huge and it’s really easy. The most difficult? Misano or Donington. Everything has to well thought-out, well-packed and well-protected.

Thursday we turn our attention to the bikes…

We have a team meeting on Thursday morning with all the management, which usually lasts around twenty-thirty minutes, and then we start with the bikes. That process begins with a technical meeting and deciding the set-up for the weekend. Normally the bikes – and the trucks - pass from race-to-race without stopping at the workshop. The Kawasaki is a fantastic bike to work on in terms of the way it is built – very simple, very easy - and most of us have six years with the ZX-10RR now so we know it really well. If we change the engine then we’ll also be cleaning and checking the chassis and the brakes and other parts. If there is a component that is over or very close to its ‘mileage limit’ then we’ll change it. So we strip the bike, check everything is in order and then rebuild. It is a methodical and systematic process.

We’ll see the rider on Thursday as well…

Johnny will have media duties or events on Thursday. It is a busy day for him normally. But we speak with him almost on a daily basis anyway through What’sApp or Facetime and we’ll also pass by the motorhome. Jonathan doesn't make many demands. He has total trust in the bike we can give him and it’s easy to work like this. He is always ready ten-fifteen minutes before the session. He’ll be there sitting relaxed and concentrating. He always wants to be first out on track. With one minute to go until the session starts you’ll see he has the helmet on and is ready. He wants to be out there setting his rhythm. It’s his routine. I would not say each session becomes tenser as the weekend goes on…rather you become more concerned. It depends on the rider. If you have a young guy who is learning then it’s much less compared to someone who always has pressure to win and make results. Things can go very well from Friday or there might be worries or more work to do to find small details to improve the bike.

 

It’s race time…

On the grid Johnny will usually explain how the bike felt on the warm-up lap. He might have to speak to the press but he also likes to be relaxed when the helmet is off. When he’s almost ready to go then it is usually just Arturo and I with him and what we talk about then is a secret! While the race is on I’m in the box and together with Pere [Riba, Crew Chief] we talk about what is happening and what we see. We’re looking at the bike and what we know of Johnny and how we know he can ride. We’re watching to see if he’s comfortable or struggling and trying to analyse the race, which can be difficult. I can tell a lot from Johnny’s body language; if he’d dragging a foot while braking or he’s making the corner apexes perfectly and the lap sectors are spot-on every lap. He is like a clock, almost mathematical: bang, bang, bang. Arturo is outside on pit wall and is one of the best I’ve seen with the pitboard because he is quick and very clear with the information, and Johnny says so as well. Sometimes Pere and I might say something to him over the radio but he takes care of it by himself. We might give Johnny information about other riders or others with different tyre combinations. It can change. Also about the groups on the track and information about a rider who he is chasing or someone who is chasing him. He gets all the info about the race without having to look behind or around him.

The best part? Not necessarily what you might think…

The best sensation for me is to see Johnny really enjoying the bike. He likes to win, but for us to be able to give him a motorcycle where he can put all of his potential and ability into a race then there is nothing better. There has been a lot of attention, celebrations and media over the years because we have won a lot but I have the feeling that I don't want us to go overboard and look like we are not respecting other people. It is a thin line between being really happy with what you have achieved and going too far: I don't think it’s nice for the others to have to see us going crazy. I know how I would feel if I was on the other side. I think it is better to do that in private. Sometimes my girlfriend has said ‘you’ve won; are you sad?!’ It can almost be overwhelming though!

Extra work time…

A big crash? It’s a part of the job. But there haven’t been any all-night rebuilds. Since I joined Kawasaki – and I also did three years with Loris Baz – I’ve never left later than 11-12 in the evening with everything organised and all the changes made. It is not a big problem when you have to fix everything. I first worked on the Kawasaki in 2011 and now we are in 2018 and the base is more or less the same. We have a simple system that work so well. Is there one area of the job that is tiring? Hmmm, honestly I don't know! If you like what you do then it's hard to think like that. It is also hard to say which is the best event. In Europe; perhaps Assen because of the track and the atmosphere. You go through that tunnel and you know this place has history.

Sunday brings it all to an end…

Sunday we get everything packed away and travel home depends on flights. Sometimes we can make it out Sunday night. If not then it’s a time to relax, sleep in the truck and leave Monday morning. For back-to-back races like Motorland to Assen it means just one day at home but in Superbike we also have less races compared to MotoGP. We live pretty well in Superbike!

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