For seven years the WSB title eluded Jonathan Rea. Then, suddenly, we got to see just how gifted he is.
even years is a long time in anyone’s book – especially if you’re regarded by many as the fastest British rider of your generation and that’s how long you’ve waited to win the WSB championship.
From the moment he arrived in WSB as a full time rider in 2009, Jonathan Rea was a race winner and it seemed inevitable he would fulfill his destiny and become world champion.
That has now happened, but his journey to the top was far from easy. His allegiance to Honda failed to net the opportunities many felt he deserved. Now, at 28, his MotoGP ambitions have been compromised and it seems unlikely he will ever make the switch. It also took a change of manufacturer, from Honda to Kawasaki, to fully deliver on his promise.
“I know it feels like a long time, but 2015 was the first year for me that I could construct a proper challenge for the title – mentally, physically and with the technical support around me,” says Jonathan. “I don’t have any regrets because I was more ready to win this year than I’ve ever been. In 2009 I probably had the package to win the championship with Honda, but I was one year out of Supersport. I wasn’t ready and I still felt like a baby riding a Superbike. I’ve worked with some amazing technical people at Honda and feel that I’ve had some brilliant opportunities, so I don’t feel like I’ve wasted any time in my career because I wouldn’t be at this point now if I hadn’t chosen the path I did. Everything I’ve learnt and achieved over the years has made me even more ready for this moment and winning the championship.”
Rea’s stellar 2015 season will be remembered for its utter dominance. From 26 starts on the Kawasaki ZX-10R he took 14 wins, including 23 podiums. Compare that with 15 wins amassed during his seven years at Honda.
“I’ve never given up on the dream,” explained Rea. “People always see a rider’s rise to the top. What they don’t see is the pitfalls: the days and weeks spent in hospital, and that’s the toughest part. There are times when you wonder if it’s all really worth it. In my case it has been.
“Winning the title is a huge weight off my shoulders. I was moving to Kawasaki who had won it with Sykes, who was my new team-mate. If I didn’t win I’d be just another fast motorbike rider. I’m really proud of what I’ve done.”
Rea’s achievements have met with huge approval. In Northern Ireland he was on prime time TV. On social media his backlog of congratulatory tweets (101,000 followers – the most in WSB) was enough to crash his phone.
But there’s still an elephant in the room: why was he was never given a chance in MotoGP? Many of his biggest fans, including his wife Tash, resent Honda passing him over. The man himself is more philosophical.
“I’m little bit disappointed that I never got a competitive chance when I was younger. But I enjoy the winning feeling, and in Superbikes I’m doing that week in, week out, with a great group of people behind me. And you don’t just turn up in MotoGP and win. I’ve been there on stand-in duty (Rea replaced an injured Casey Stoner in 2012), finished seventh and eighth, and felt like I did a good job. But I also found out the level it takes to ride at the front, and how prepared you need to be. I’m not going to feel hard done by because some doors didn’t open.
“Obviously if an opportunity presented itself I’d have to look at it, but right now I’m enjoying the moment with Kawasaki and being in a factory team. I’m definitely not thinking about leaving. And that’s not just from a sporting point of view, it’s a lifestyle point of view, a human and personal point of view. I’ve got an amazing balance right now. I don’t think in ten years’ time I’ll have too many regrets – well I hope not!”
Rea’s inner peace is down to many factors. Growing up, being financially secure, and being the 2015 champ is a good start. But he feels the biggest contributing factors are his wife and growing family. “I had a massive change of approach when I got married, and another when my first son Jake was born. I no longer had all the time in the world to sit at home like a single professional athlete does. I used to have a lot of time to be doing the wrong things.
“Now I have to manage my preparation time much better because I have other people to think about. I used to worry about the things I couldn’t control and I’d do the wrong type of training, or I’d over-train. Let me explain… So you’re a single guy that wants to win the world championship. S what do you do? You go and train your arse off.
“Then you wake up at the weekend when you should be having a few rest days, and you get bored, so you go out and train even harder. I’m 28 but I feel old because I’ve been around a while. I wouldn’t say I’m mature, but I do know what works best for me.
“Maybe if I’d had my wife and family around me at the beginning… well, let’s just say I would certainly have been a lot calmer and probably wouldn’t have made so many mistakes. The balance I have right now is really good.
“I’m married with two sons. I’m not sure you’d want to tell that to anyone in the MotoGP paddock. I can imagine the look on a team manager’s face when you tell them that you’re having a kid. They’ll immediately think, ‘That’s him fucked – he’s going to be half a second slower next year’.”
With the WSB crown safely tucked away at his Isle of Man home, Rea’s unwavering focus and preparation to bag another world championship (or two) has already begun. For 2016 he’ll have the all new ZX-10R, a bike he has already begun testing before the winter ban comes into play.
While WSB itself fails to engage the fans like it used to, the level of riders, teams and manufacturer support continues to grow. Kawasaki, Ducati and now Yamaha and MV are operating official teams in 2016. The level of competition is high, and after Rea’s brilliant 2015 season he has become the new benchmark in the series. He starts the new season with a giant target on his back.
“I know that winning the world championship this year wasn’t easy because I rode every race as hard as I could. But I won it with five races to spare and I really don’t think it will be like that again, because when things should have gone wrong for us this year... they just didn’t.
“People ask me about my rivals, but I don’t worry about that because they are something that I cannot control. All I can do is go away and have a really good off-season again, and make sure I’m in the best possible shape. I don’t think we have to change the plan we had from the last winter test. We need to work straight away on getting comfortable on the bike, and then start to think about performance. And because of the people around me and the way I know I can ride the bike, I’ve got absolutely no doubt that once again we’ll be fighting for the world championship.”
Words Michael Guy Photos 2 Snap, Gold and Goose