Jonathan Rea is feeling optimistic of increasing his lead in the World Superbike Championship this weekend at Motorland Aragon in Spain.
The series begins a run of five successive European rounds and Rea is aiming to maintain his record of never finishing off the podium at Aragon since he joined the Kawasaki Racing Team in 2015.
He has won twice during that time, claiming his most recent victory at the track in race one last year.
The reigning champion has not been his usual dominant self at the first two rounds of the championship this season, as Rea and his team cotinue to adapt to the new technical regulations brought in this year reducing the maximum allowable rev limit.
Rea, though, secured his 55th career WSBK triumph with a win in the opening race in the previous round in Thailand and leads Phillip Island double winner Marco Melandri by two points in the standings.
Aragon has proven a happy hunting ground for Ducati in recent seasons, and Italian rider Melandri and team-mate Chaz Davies will be hoping to continue an impressive run of results on the Panigale this weekend.
However, Rea is feeling upbeat over his own prospects and with Assen following swiftly next weekend, the 31-year-old believes both rounds are of key importance to his championship prospects.
“Aragon is a great circuit and one that I really enjoy riding at, although at this time of the year the conditions are generally quite cool,” Rea said.
“Last season was interesting riding against the Ducatis, to see how the bikes had strengths in different areas. This season we will have to understand how our bike behaves and how competitive we can be, but I am optimistic.
“Step-by-step I’m starting to feel better with the bike and understand what is required to be fast this season,” he added.
“It’s important to be strong at Motorland and with Assen coming right after, it could be the most important phase of the championship.
“Being back in Europe everything is more familiar and ‘normal’, so I am excited to see what this weekend brings.”
Toomebridge rider Eugene Laverty is ruled out through injury and his place in the Milwaukee Aprilia team has been taken over by Davide Giugliano.
Laverty flew home to Northern Ireland this week after being treated at hospital in Bangkok following a crash in the second race in Thailand, suffering fractures to his pelvis.
He is set to miss the next three rounds of the championship and is targeting a return at Donington Park from May 25-27.
In the World Supersport Championship, Andrew Irwin from Carrickfergus hopes to secure his first point this weekend.
Irwin missed the first round in Australia after suffering a broken hand in testing.
He finished in 20th place last time out in Thailand on the CIA Landlord Insurance Honda.
“I’m looking forward to Aragon, Thailand was very tough and not where I want to be,” Irwin said.
“I had laser surgery on my hand to help the bone heal last week and it seems to have helped, so now I’m feeling healthier I’d be disappointed if I don’t get my first world championship point come Sunday.”