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World Superbikes - Motorsport: Estoril Round Preview

The first two rounds of action in the 2022 World Superbikes championship have provided everything fans could have hoped for as the series heads to Estoril this weekend.

Northern Ireland's Jonathan Rea and Alvaro Bautista of Spain have split the wins in the six races run so far at Aragon in Spain and Assen in the Netherlands, each winning one of the main races at each event and one Superpole race.

Bautista emerges as main challenger

Six-time champion Rea was pipped to the title last season by Turkey's Toprak Razgatlioglu, but his head-to-head battle for the title this year looks to be with the veteran Bautista, who spent nine seasons at the top level of the sport in MotoGP, before moving to this series in 2019.

Bautista has taken an early 18-point lead over Rea in the standings after Race 2 at Assen provided the pivotal moment in the championship so far. Rea and Razgatlioglu crashed out after colliding when battling for the lead on lap 6 of the 21-lap race.

Both riders blamed each other for the incident, which allowed Bautista to take the race win and break clear of them in the championship standings.

The champion has yet to win this season, but can't be counted out just yet after taking pole at each of the first two races.

He has not yet found a way of converting that into race wins, finishing third four times and having a best finish of second, but it still looks to be a three-rider battle in prospect for the title, rather than just two, and that view is backed up by the latest championship odds.

Bautista, a 3/1 chance at the start of the season, is now 5/4, just ahead of Rea, whose price has been clipped to 6/4 from a pre-season 7/4 after his largely impressive start. Razgatlioglu is out to 11/4, having opened as the market leader.

Razgatlioglu has ground to make up

The Turkish rider has 64 points, leaving him 27 behind Rea and 45 adrift of Bautista. The rest of the field is headed by Assen Race 2 runner-up Andrea Locatelli on 55 points, but he and fifth-placed Iker Lecuona appear likely to challenge for podium finishes only when the big three suffer misfortunes, such as the crash in the last race.

This weekend, the series moves to Estoril in Portugal for the third round of action, with the usual schedule of one main race each day on Saturday and Sunday, plus the Superpole race on Sunday morning.

Rea looks like the rider to beat

Everything that we've seen so far this season suggests that Rea should be the first name on the list again as the potential winner.

He should be happy enough to be heading to the Portuguese circuit after he won two of the three races there last season.

He was also less than a second behind winner Scott Redding in Race 1 after a tremendous three-way scrap that also involved Razgatlioglu, who finished second.

Rea also won all three Estoril races in 2020, when the track took over hosting the Portuguese round of the championship from Portimao.

Tension rising after recent crash

With Rea and Razgatlioglu now at loggerheads and Bautista stirring the pot with comments that such a crash between his rivals had been "inevitable", this weekend's races rate as real box-office material.

The big three can be expected to run at the front again, and Rea looks the man to beat given his tremendous record at the track and his consistent pace in every session so far this season.

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