Jonathan Rea MBE: world champion, family man, story teller
After taking his fourth consecutive double-victory at Magny Cours last weekend, Jonathan Rea made history by becoming the first rider to ever win four World Superbike titles in succession and the most successful rider in the series’ history.
On the eve of the release of his new autobiography Dream. Believe. Achieve. MCN spoke with the Factory Kawasaki rider as he travelled between promotional events in the back of a cab to discuss his racing success, achievements outside the sport and the constant battles he faces with his critics.
"There’s no way I ever believed I could achieve the success I have when I set out. I had a dream and since winning that first World Superbike championship with Kawasaki in 2015, we have just kept on improving the bike. I had no idea the snowball effect that it would have.
"The response has been incredible from journalists in Northern Ireland and the national media across Britain. It’s something I’m very proud about – bringing superbikes to the forefront of the public eye and for the last two seasons, the goings on outside the sport have also been special; with getting my MBE last year and then being nominated for Sports Personality of the Year.
"I was following the polls and all my mates were showing me the betting websites and I could see myself as fifth favourite. I thought to get that would be like a win, but to get second was absolutely unbelievable and I got some great support."
Working a season at a time
Seemingly unstoppable aboard his Kawasaki ZX-10RR, Rea insists that he works methodically from season to season and, despite previous success, had no pre-conceived ideas about a fourth title coming into this year.
It was for this reason that he chose to write his book now, which details his life from schoolboy motocrosser to three-time champion at the end of 2017.
"Last year I had no idea about this year and last year felt like the peak of my career. No one had ever won the championship three times in a row before and then there was the MBE and the SPOTY recommendation. I believed we could challenge for the championship again this year, but I didn’t know if we could win."
Alongside the challenge of riding a 230bhp factory-grade superbike at the pinnacle of production-based motorcycle racing, the book also takes a detailed look at Rea’s personal life; discussing the battle of recovering from injuries, the split of his parents and the tragic deaths of his friends and fellow competitors Chris Jones and Craig Jones.
"If I wanted to just write a book about my career achievements then it would be a real boring read and I had a real good look at myself when I was doing it," Rea said.
It's all about honesty
"I read lots of sports biographies and the best ones have been from real honesty and stories that people can relate to. It is too easy for people to see you on the top of the podium and think that life is all rosy. I wanted to balance the last four years with the real life story.
"The deaths of Chris Jones and Craig Jones were part of my life and when we wrote the book I had a timeline of my career path that I needed to go back and paint pictures of.
"Sometimes the chapters were gritty, like mourning the death of two people in my life, from a young age. It was ingrained in my mind and it was difficult to talk about some of the time. They both led an amazing and full life and the sad part about it is both riders were exceptional talents and as a bike fan it was sad to not be able to see how far they could go in the sport."
Drawing inspiration from John McGuinness
As well as wanting to depict the 'real' Rea to his readers, the four-time champ also claims part of the inspiration for the direction of his narrative comes from fellow racer and 23-time TT winner John McGuinness, who recently released his own biography too.
"I was incredibly touched by John McGuinness’ book because it was very relatable. I know the family well and I know a lot of the people he was talking about, so I could understand everything that he spoke about."
After quickly hanging up the phone to pay the taxi fare and check into his hotel room, we begin talking again. The conversation quickly turns to next year and how many more world titles we can expect to see from the Northern Irishman.
Signed with Kawasaki until 2020, Rea remains positive about the next two seasons, however insists it is more important to focus on ending this year properly before then.
"From a confidence point of view, I want to do as best as I can for the rest of this year. I want to win as desperately as I did before I won the title and only after Qatar can we afford to have some slower weeks and properly enjoy what’s happened.
"I take things year on year and superbikes is changing year on year, with regulations and the format of the championship. With Kawasaki, I still feel like we have a lot of potential left and that the best is yet to come.
"I don’t know where that ceiling is and I don’t know what I have left to achieve in terms of statistics, but I believe I can be competitive for at least two more seasons."
Unfortunately, despite his success, Rea’s superbike achievements have been marred by a barrage of criticism online, with some suggesting he should move on to the MotoGP paddock, rather than continuously dominating in WSB.
Fully committed to WSB
"I’m fully attached to the World Superbike championship and it feels like my home and it upsets me to hear that I get negative comments from people, but I completely understand that sport goes through these periods.
"I’m the guy winning, so for me it’s completely not boring and I’m living the dream. It’s not too long ago that people were talking about MotoGP in the same way, but now they’re in a complete golden era. But yeah, it does upset me.
What about MotoGP?
"I had an offer from an official GP team for this year, but for me it was more important to stay with Kawasaki. Superbikes is very accessible to the fans and the paddock has got more of a family atmosphere and I enjoy that.
"With 13 race weekends on the calendar, I feel like I can keep some normality in my life and I really value that. It’s time I can spend with my family and enjoy my time away from the track.
"When people talk about Kawasaki, it’s not the bike or the rider that makes the difference. I feel it’s our team – all the way from the manager to the marketing. It’s the atmosphere within the team that really makes the difference.”
Jonathan Rea’s autobiography ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve.’ is available now.