Stoner deputy Rea faces tough task

Jonathan Rea

Opportunity knocks for Johnny Rea and the Northern Irishman can't keep it waiting.

Stepping in for Stoner in a first MotoGP ride is a tricky enough task, so imagine combining the learning process with a World Superbike day job.

The timing isn't ideal for focus, but there is a seat at Gresini Honda up for grabs and Rea could force himself to the head of the line with a strong showing.

Rea's schedule is a daunting one, but he has been lucky in some respects. There has already been plenty of time spent at the airport check-in desk in the speedy turnaround from the Russian WSBK round to the Brno test, although what has been a slice of good fortune has been the scheduling of the two testing sessions.

Learning the nuances of a MotoGP machine on a race weekend Friday (often in wet conditions) has caught many a rider out and taking the start can be an achievement in itself, so this week's run-out for Honda and Yamaha at Aragon is a godsend for the premier class newcomer.

The double duty for Rea looks like this: Two days of testing at Aragon this week (completed by the time you read this) then straight to Germany for the ante-penultimate World Superbike round of 2012.

Still an outside shot for the title, he can't afford to be thinking ahead to the following weekend, where he will make his MotoGP race debut at Misano. Then it is another series of alternating race weekends on September 21st-23rd and 28th-30th, at Portimao and Aragon, respectively.

Whilst there is certainly no space going in Repsol Honda next year, with Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez locked into factory team deals, that Gresini place is still available.

You'd have to believe that Fausto Gresini will already have a favoured choice in mind and will want to avoid delaying any decision (he would err towards keeping Álvaro Bautista on for a second season), but the message from Asaka can be very persuasive…

That's something that Rea knows only too well, as this chance to debut in MotoGP could have come five seasons ago. An exciting opportunity to ride the Team Roberts bike at Donington Park, all confirmed and prepared for by MotoGP legend Kenny Roberts, was pulled at the last minute when the Japanese gave the order to focus on the Suzuka 8-Hours endurance contest and his British Superbike title challenge.

Success in the Suzuka 300km event had convinced Honda of that, and his win alongside MotoGP test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi in this year's 8-hours —making him the first Briton to achieve the feat- tipped the balance his way when it came to choosing Stoner's replacement.

What can we expect from Rea at Misano? Adjusting to carbon brake disks, prototype electronics and particularly Bridgestone tyres isn't something that happens overnight.

A promising sign was his continual and consistent improvement during his track time in the Czech Republic and the time that he has had to get his head around the differences (at one point in the test, he asked to receive no more information from the garage because there was already so much to assimilate).

His record at Misano is mixed: He took his first World Superbike win there in 2009 and was on the podium at the most recent event in June, but has also had his share of big crashes. A 230kph, collarbone and arm breaking smash in warmup in 2011 will not go down as his fondest memory.

A race finish ahead of the CRT bikes is a realistic goal, and he will likely be dicing with the satellite Ducati riders as well.

Anything better than that would certainly be exceeding expectations for a maiden ride, push him up the pecking order for the final satellite Honda seat… and kickstart a grueling month in style.